By James Regan and Cyril Altmeyer
PARIS (Reuters) - EADS
EADS predicted Airbus would sell more than 1,000 planes in 2011, helped by a decision to revamp its single-aisle A320 series to use less fuel that gave it a headstart over Boeing in the best-selling jetliner segment.
The group posted forecast-beating second-quarter results on Friday, as did Boeing two days earlier, and raised its free cash flow target for the year to around 1 billion euros ($1.44 billion), excluding spending on acquisitions.
EADS said it still expected 2011 operating profit before one-offs to remain stable year-on-year at around 1.3 billion euros. Earnings per share could lag or exceed last year's depending on the euro's strength against the dollar.
But for 2012, the group expects a "significant improvement" in its earnings before interest and tax and one-offs thanks to "higher volume, better pricing and improvement of A380 (superjumbo) performance at Airbus," EADS added.
"They are rather confident on the level of orders, so they are raising their free cash flow target quite considerably," Oddo analyst Yan Derocles said. EADS said it had net cash of 11 billion euros as of June 30.
EADS shares were 1 percent higher at 24.53 euros by 0925 GMT, outperforming a 0.7 percent weaker French blue-chip CAC-40 index <.FCHI>.
EADS generates around 70 percent of sales at its Airbus division, with the rest fairly evenly split between its helicopter, space and defense businesses. EADS is chipping away at its cash pile to fund acquisitions as it looks to rebalance its portfolio and reduce its exposure to the euro.
The group said quarterly earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) rose 15 percent to 371 million euros in the three months to June 30, while sales rose 6 percent to 12.1 billion.
EADS had been expected to post EBIT of 317 million euros, down from 323 million a year ago, on sales of 11.6 billion in the second quarter, according to a Reuters analyst poll.
"Our results for the first half of 2011 mirror the strong demand in the commercial aviation sector," Chief Executive Louis Gallois said.
Boeing, which splits its business more evenly between commercial aircraft and defense, on Wednesday posted forecast-beating quarterly profit on strong sales of its commercial airplanes, cost management and a good mix of deliveries of its defense products.
It also raised its 2011 earnings forecast.
Airbus showed that a bet on a re-engined version of its A320 family, known as the A320neo, had paid off as it picked up hundreds of orders for the aircraft at last month's Paris Air Show.
Boeing had wanted to take more time to weigh whether to put more fuel-efficient engines on its competing 737 or whether to redesign it.
But after Airbus' air show wins and when loyal Boeing customer AMR Corp's
Airbus still won a large chunk of the American Airlines order, giving it a major boost in the U.S. market as carriers prepare to replace aging fleets.
EADS said Airbus should deliver 520 to 530 aircraft this year, including around 25 A380 superjumbos, helping revenue exceed last year's level.
Boeing this week trimmed its delivery forecast slightly to 485-495 commercial aircraft from 485-500.
Planemakers receive downpayments when orders are confirmed but airlines hand over the bulk of the price on delivery.
(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Christian Plumb and Erica Billingham)