January 4, 2019 / 4:39 PM / 15 days ago

UPDATE 1-Airbus chases aircraft lessors as order race tightens

(Adds planemaker chief remarks, data to end-November)

By Tim Hepher

PARIS, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Airbus has been chasing deals with leasing companies in recent weeks to try to narrow a gap in orders against rival Boeing, while industry experts took a somewhat more sanguine view on 2018 deliveries after shares took a beating.

The outcome of the recent leasing talks could affect a tighter-than-expected race for orders in 2018, though Airbus is relying on a recent burst of orders for a newly acquired Canadian jet programme and lags Boeing on a like-for-like basis.

The last-minute order flurry complicates a jigsaw of data awaited by investors as uncertainty lingers over whether Airbus met its crucial aircraft delivery target for 2018 - a reliable guide to profits and a barometer of supply chain tensions.

Industry sources have said Airbus was unlikely to meet the 800-jet goal (782 excluding the Canadian A220), but others said Airbus could still spring a surprise after workers delivered jets late on Dec. 31 that had not been expected to make the cut.

Bloomberg News reported on Thursday that Airbus had delivered more than 790 and fewer than 800 aircraft in 2018.

Shares in Airbus rebounded 3 percent on Friday after falling as much as 7.9 percent on Thursday due to doubts over deliveries and what dealers described as a possible trading error.

In a new year message to staff, planemaking chief and designated chief executive Guillaume Faury sounded upbeat on 2018 but warned industrial execution and quality must improve.

Even though official data would not be announced for a few days, "all our team deserve a big congratulations," he said.

Airbus is due to announce commercial data on Jan. 11, but without the fanfare of an annual news conference that for years featured outspoken former sales chief John Leahy as the company reins in communication before its full results, due on Feb 14.

On the race for new orders, Irish leasing company SMBC Aviation was in talks with Airbus in the closing stretch of 2018 and looked close to expanding its narrow-body fleet by several dozen jets, industry sources said.

SMBC Aviation and Airbus declined comment.

Airbus was also said to be scouting for business in China, where it has a deal pending with lessor ICBC for 80 jets.

A provisional order was announced at the Farnborough Airshow last July but the name of the buyer was never officially disclosed and the order is not yet on Airbus's books.

People familiar with the deal linked it at the time to ICBC Leasing, one of China's fastest-growing leasing companies.

A similar deal for 100 planes from Chinese-owned lessor Avolon, which had been kept under wraps in similar conditions as the industry waited to see how trade tensions between China and the United States would play out, was confirmed in December.

Both Airbus and Boeing typically turn to leasing companies to stay afloat when economic concerns deter airlines, but the financiers who now control about half the world fleet pick their moment carefully in order to capture the steepest discounts.

Airbus ended November with 380 net orders for 2018, to which it has since added 100 from Avolon and two U.S. deals for a total of 120 A220 aircraft. Boeing ended November with 690 net orders and has not announced firm new business since then.

The U.S. company publishes its data on Jan. 8.

Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Keith Weir and Mark Potter

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