By Tim Hepher
TOULOUSE, France (Reuters) - Airbus posted an eight percent rise in deliveries last year, beating its own forecasts by a comfortable margin to set a company record, and pulled off a last-minute surge in orders to beat arch-rival Boeing in the race for new orders.
Confirming an estimate published by Reuters, the European planemaker said on Wednesday it delivered 688 aircraft in 2016, compared with an official company forecast of more than 650 and a goal set by its finance director of more than 670.
Deliveries rebounded at the year-end after problems in the supply chain.
Airbus planemaking president Fabrice Bregier told a news conference he expected more than 700 deliveries in 2017, but without the last-minute frenzy seen last year due to problems in receiving engines and cabin equipment.
Airbus remained behind the world's biggest aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, in deliveries, but scored another win in the race for new business after posting 731 net orders for 2016.
Boeing delivered 748 aircraft and took 668 net orders last year.
The surge in Airbus orders included 98 out of 100 aircraft sold to Iran under a historic sanctions deal. The other two aircraft were bought back from another customer that no longer needs them and are unused, sales chief John Leahy said.
IranAir was expected to take delivery of the first aircraft in France later on Wednesday.
Airbus posted over 100 orders from unidentified customers, which industry sources have linked to Saudi carrier Flynas and the leasing arm of China's Bank of Communications.
But a December sales flurry by both Airbus and Boeing failed to prevent the combined book-to-bill ratio of the two giants dipping below 1 for the first time since 2009, placing a dent in record industry order backlogs amid concerns over the economy.
Industry orders peaked in 2015. Leahy warned of a further slowdown in orders in 2017 and said Airbus would be unable to sell as many aircraft as it delivers this year.
But he dismissed concerns among some investors over mounting deferrals and cancellations of orders because planemakers typically "overbook" to dampen the risk of airline failures.
Speaking to a group of reporters after the news conference, he insisted deliveries would continue to rise "for several years" despite cyclical swings in orders as planemakers work through record waiting lists for planes.
(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Mark Potter)