Airbus has far exceeded its own sales targets for 2012. Its biggest challenge may soon be to find production slots for additional orders.

The European aircraft manufacturer rang out 2012 with a surprisingly high number of orders—914. That is 40% more than its internal sales target of 650. Airbus delivered 588 aircraft last year. As positive as this news may be for the company when compared to its earlier guidance, Boeing has still taken the lead from its major rival in both orders and deliveries for the first time in many years.

While the title of the “world's largest aircraft builder” is gone for now, Airbus is pointing to some other figures that it finds encouraging from its perspective. Chief Operating Officer for Customers John Leahy insists the A320NEO (new engine option) has held its 62% market share over the Boeing 737 MAX.

“We started earlier, we have a better product, the market has already spoken,” Leahy says. He believes Airbus will be able to remain above a 50% market share for the program. Also, the company has made progress in achieving its target of transitioning from the current A320 to the NEO as smoothly as possible. Airbus sold more than 300 current-engine A320s in 2012 and targets more than 200 in 2013. The company also emphasizes that for 2011 and 2012, its market share held steady at 52%.

In spite of its stronger-than-expected sales in 2012, the company is taking a relatively cautious approach for the current year. Leahy forecasts approximately 700 orders and the plans are to deliver more than 600 aircraft, which is likely to translate only into a modest production increase. The company has also raised list prices by 3.6%, so a new Airbus A380 is now worth $403.9 million, before discounts.

The A350 program remains on track for first flight this summer, according to CEO Fabrice Bregier. Airbus has an “internal target” of flying the aircraft before the Paris air show in June, but he also cautions that “if we fly just after the show, it does not make any difference to me.” He points out that Airbus is still facing “supplier challenges” and that the program may still encounter an unforeseen problem. While sticking with the decision to not reengine the A330, Bregier indicates that there is an “upside” of going beyond the current 10-per-month production rate.

When it comes to the A380 program, Bregier says that the “wing rib feet issue is now behind us. We have found the root causes of the problem and we have found the solution.” Both the retrofit to existing and in-production aircraft and the line fit for new deliveries are going to be implemented this year. In spite of the difficulties, Airbus plans to deliver 25 A380s in 2013 and to sell a similar number while increasing output in 2014.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is moving closer to certifying proposed permanent repairs and newly designed wings for the A380 following the detection of cracks in wing rib feet onboard numerous in-service aircraft last year.

EASA expects to certify the permanent modification to wings of in-service aircraft and those that have been built—but not yet delivered—in the first quarter of the year, according to an official. EASA certified the work for in-service aircraft in late December 2012, although the approval comes with a two-year limit because some of the paperwork is not yet finalized. That preliminary certification is to be replaced with a permanent approval in the first quarter alongside full certification of the work on aircraft that are completed, but have not yet been delivered.

Certification of the newly designed wing is now expected to occur in the second quarter of this year, although EASA has not commented on the exact schedule. The new wings will become available in early 2014. Qatar Airways has deferred delivery of its first A380 by several months to enable Airbus to integrate the redesign on all Qatar aircraft.

In-service aircraft are currently subject to short-interval checks and preliminary repairs that have to be repeated, depending on utilization. The permanent fix, which includes replacement of several hybrid ribs composed of composites and the Al 7449 alloy, is expected to require aircraft to be grounded several weeks. Airbus has also offered to provide airlines with a repair schedule that can be included in C checks so that no additional ground time is needed. However, this accommodation would spread out modifications over a longer period.

The modifications to in-service and yet-to-be-delivered aircraft involve 120 units, 92 of which had been delivered by the end of last November.