By Tim Hepher
PARIS (Reuters) - Airbus provisionally hit its main industrial target of 800 aircraft deliveries in 2018 after record handovers in December, two people briefed on the matter said.
The final number is subject to ongoing auditing checks, with raw operational data standing on the 800 threshold, but Airbus is said to be optimistic that the European company has all but averted its first ever missed delivery goal after output snags.
Meanwhile both Airbus and U.S. rival Boeing are poised to announce net orders above the rate of deliveries, after a push to win new business at the end of the year and in the face of concerns over a downturn in the aerospace cycle, sources said.
The so-called book-to-bill ratio is an indicator of the strength of future business, and also depends on auditors signing off on last-minute activity.
Both companies declined comment.
Airbus's unofficial delivery tally sets a European record and marks a 9 percent increase from 2017. But it was boosted by the recently acquired Canadian A220 jet programme and frenetic efforts to catch up after engine delays and other snags.
It also follows days of speculation over whether Airbus had managed to reach the profit-related target, after cutting it in November due to gaps in engine supplies. Airbus is now targeting 800 deliveries including 18 ex-Bombardier A220 jets.
"It seems that they made it," said one of the people. A second source confirmed a provisional total of 800 deliveries.
Shares in the European planemaker fell sharply last week after earlier signs that Airbus was unlikely to meet the target, including a report that it had fallen short by up to 9 jets.
Industry sources later said they did not rule out that Airbus would pull off a positive surprise as figures were compiled and audited. Airbus was due to publish full-year data on Friday but may bring this forward.
Airbus shares were up 4 percent in afternoon trading.
Boeing will publish its own data later on Tuesday and is expected to remain the world's largest planemaker for a seventh successive year after targeting 810-815 commercial deliveries.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Louise Heavens)
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