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Boeing delivered 601 planes last year

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Boeing Co. said on Thursday that it delivered 601 planes last year, putting it on track to beat European rival Airbus as the top plane maker for the year.

Airbus has beaten Boeing in deliveries in recent years, but Boeing is now cranking out its new 787 and a revamped 747 after delays for both aircraft. Its delivery total was the most since 1999 — the height of an Internet-driven boom and a time when airlines were relatively flush with cash. The following decade brought two U.S. recessions and airline bankruptcies.

Boeing also says it booked orders for 1,203 commercial jets — its second biggest order year in the company's history. The big driver for 2012 orders was its plan to put new, more fuel-efficient engines on its workhorse 737. The plane has been a strong seller, and Boeing booked orders for 1,124 last year. Boeing is still making the current version of the plane and aims to begin delivering the Max in 2017. The Max was a response to Airbus' A320neo, for "new engine option," which boosted Airbus orders in 2011.

Airbus has not reported full-year orders and deliveries yet. Through November, it had booked orders for 585 planes and delivered 516.

Boeing met its goal for deliveries of 787s and the new 747-8s. It had been aiming to deliver 70 to 85 of the planes. It ended up delivering 46 of the 787, and 31 of the 747, for a total of 77.

Boeing now has orders for 4,373 planes that it hasn't built yet — the most in its history. Although it likes to have a sizeable backlog, Boeing executives have said the current backlog is too high and it has been speeding up production to bring it down.

"We have huge opportunity ahead of us if we execute on our commitments," said the head of Boeing's commercial airplane division, Ray Conner, in a message to employees. "We know we have the right products and we've proven we know how to increase rates."

On its defense side, Boeing delivered 51 Chinook cargo helicopters, up from 32 in 2011. There were 48 deliveries of the F-18 fighter-bomber and variants, one less than in 2011. C-17 cargo plane deliveries fell to 10, from 13 a year earlier.

Boeing shares rose 89 cents to $77.96 in afternoon trading.

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