Airbus posted higher airplane orders for 2019 but failed to keep pace with deliveries for the second year in a row after axing its A380 superjumbo program and clearing its books of some defunct deals left over from a faltering industry order boom.

The European firm posted 1,131 gross orders, up 36% for the strongest rise in six years. That followed an order for 40 of its A330neo wide-body jets to an unnamed customer in the closing days of 2019.

Net orders after cancellations rose 3% to 768 jets.

Airbus
Airbus. (Photo: Twitter/@Airbus) Twitter/@Airbus

Airbus (AIR.PA) confirmed it had delivered a record 863 aircraft in 2019, up 7.9%, after Reuters exclusively reported the annual total on Jan 1.

The figures put Airbus on course to beat Boeing in both orders and deliveries for the first time since 2011 as Airbus's U.S. rival grapples with a crisis over its grounded 737 MAX.

Boeing (BA.N) is due to post numbers next Tuesday.

Airbus used the opportunity of a stronger than expected year attracting new business to rid its books of dozens of old orders deemed unlikely to come to fruition.

These included 73 planes on order from Synergy Group, once a star customer in Latin America, and a previously announced overhaul of order books among major Gulf carriers that are revising down their demand for long-haul Airbus and Boeing jets.

Global planemakers are increasingly cleaning the stables of over-optimistic deals accumulated during the industry's biggest order rush in the past decade, which had been fueled by high oil prices and low interest rates. Some airlines now lack cash to take delivery, while several orders have also been deferred.

Airbus data brought the 2019 book-to-bill ratio - or the ratio of net orders to deliveries - to 0.89, the lowest level since the financial crisis in 2009.

Both Airbus and Boeing are however enjoying a buffer of some 8 years of deliveries at current production rates.

Industry sources said the Synergy orders had already been written off with a value of zero in adjusted figures on the net value of outstanding business, under recent accounting rules.

The cancellation is the latest headache for airline Avianca and its controlling company Synergy, which has struggled for years with long-standing debts to both Airbus and hedge fund Elliott Management.Synergy is owned by German Efromovich, a Bolivian-born aviation entrepreneur who bought Avianca out of bankruptcy in the early 2000s and grew it to become Latin America's No. 2 airline.

Last May, United Airlines took control of Synergy, ousting Efromovich from his own airline, due to a defaulted loan issued by the No. 3 U.S. carrier.

Airbus said it had delivered more than 640 single-aisle A320-family jets in 2019, also confirming a Reuters report.

It is expected to give forecasts for 2020 when it issues annual results at the end of January.