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Airbus lags Boeing but faces tense end to order race

PARIS (Reuters) – Europe’s Airbus sold 248 jets in November, but remained behind Boeing as both planemakers accelerated towards what could be a tight finish to their annual order race.

November’s Airbus sales included a total of 120 A320-family aircraft to three unidentified customers.

However CIT Leasing canceled an order for one of 15 new-generation A350-900 wide-body jets it had bought, as it finalized an order for 15 upgraded versions of the older A330.

In total, Airbus won 1,328 total orders between January and November, company data showed on Friday. After adjusting for cancellations, it had 1,031 net orders. It delivered 554 jets.

On Thursday, Boeing <BA.N> reported 1,380 orders between Jan 1 and Dec 2, including 100 737 MAX confirmed by Ireland’s Ryanair <RYA.I>. Net orders stood at 1,274 aircraft.

Boeing delivered 647 aircraft in the first 11 months.

The two planemakers are heading towards a stronger than expected order intake for 2014, as airlines seek the fuel savings offered by efficient models despite lower oil prices.

Airbus, which is already above its net order target for 2014, has a further 500 provisional orders announced but not yet finalised. Some of these typically get booked in December.

Boeing looks set to top 1,300 net orders for a second year running, exceeding an internal target of 1,100 and reaching what had seemed a stretching scenario just a few months ago.

Airbus said its waiting list of jets sold but not yet delivered had risen above 6,000 units for the first time.

Both firms use overbooking to guarantee a taker for each aircraft produced, mimicking the technique used by airlines to fill seats, meaning some unfilled orders will trickle away.

In a sign of previous overbooking, industry sources say Airbus has been pushing buyers of the current-generation A320 to upgrade to the newer A320neo so that it can halt production of the older model in 2018, as planned, and contain costs.

Completing the switch on time while ramping up the A350 are both are seen as crucial to its margin goals.

In November, JetBlue <JBLU.O> converted an order for 10 of the classic version of A321 to the new A321neo.

The tally included the first firm orders for the upgraded A330neo but left unresolved questions over a gap in orders for the current version, which has already seen a production cut.

Airbus has said it is negotiating a potential deal with China, but analysts say assuring smooth cash generation from the A330 remains one of its key challenges in the next two years.

(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon; editing by Keith Weir)

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