Airbus challenges Boeing with first quarter order boost

European planemaker Airbus looks set to challenge Boeing for top place in the order race in the first quarter after falling behind its U.S. rival in 2012, data showed on Thursday.

Swelled by a previously revealed $24 billion order from Indonesia's Lion Air, Airbus reported 431 orders, up fourfold from the first three months of last year and well above the 193 orders Boeing registered for the period to March 26.

Airbus announced separately that it had boosted production of the A330, a passenger jet which has enjoyed a renaissance thanks to delays to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, to a planned record level of 10 a month.

However, it also suffered a setback in its corporate jet business as the data revealed one of two private customers for the future A350 - billed as Europe's answer to the lightweight Dreamliner - had canceled.

Lion Air's order for 234 narrowbody A320-family airliners, signed in front of French President Francois Hollande last month, fuelled a debate over whether new Southeast Asian airlines are soaking up too much capacity.

Planemakers generally insist that demand from carriers like Lion Air, already one of Boeing's largest customers, underscores the transport needed to support some of the world's liveliest economies. But some bankers have warned of an order bubble.

Last month's orders also included confirmation, as expected, of a 16-plane deal from Hawaiian Airlines [ID:nL6N0C3B5U].

Airbus is targeting 700-750 plane orders in 2013, down from 914 in 2012 as a two-year surge in order activity triggered by new fuel-saving medium-haul models starts to wind down.

Adjusted for cancellations, net Airbus orders totaled 410 planes in the first quarter. Boeing logged 191 net orders between the start of the year and March 26, the latest period for which the U.S. figures are currently available.

Boeing's figures do not yet include a $16 billion deal for 175 jets secured from Ireland's Ryanair in March, potentially leaving the U.S. firm in sight of Airbus' total.

Orders are generally assessed over the calendar year, but analysts say Boeing's return to the industry's top spot last year signaled an increase in confidence and softened a crisis over 787 battery problems.

Airbus, the planemaking subsidiary of EADS , meanwhile, said it had delivered 144 aircraft in the first quarter, including four Airbus A380 superjumbos.

Boeing expects to out-deliver Airbus for a second year running in 2013 with projected deliveries of 635-645 aircraft.

Airbus said it had increased A330 production to 10 a month from 9.5 a month as of the beginning of April.

It made no mention of the status of plans to boost output further to 11 a month, which it placed on hold during a row with China over European Union airline emissions rules. The EU suspended the disputed emissions policy in November.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by James Regan)