- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

DALLAS — Airlines around the world are updating their fleets with new, more fuel-efficient planes, and that’s good news for aircraft maker Boeing Co.

The Chicago company said Wednesday that first-quarter profit soared 58 percent, beating analysts’ expectations, as sales at its commercial airplane division surged. Even its defense business grew, although much more slowly.

Boeing delivered 137 commercial airplanes in the quarter, winning bragging rights over European rival Airbus, which had 131 deliveries. Much of the demand came from emerging markets, said Chairman and CEO W. James McNerney Jr.

Boeing’s backlog rose, partly on orders for a new, more fuel-efficient version of its venerable 737 jetliner. Mr. McNerney said the company was focused on profitably boosting commercial airplane production and delivery rates.

The company’s stock price rose $3.93, or 5.4 percent, to close at $77.14 on twice the normal trading volume. Before Wednesday, shares had been flat in 2012.

Boeing earned $923 million, or $1.22 per share, in the first quarter, compared with $586 million, or 78 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding a gain from settling litigation, the company earned $1.11 per share, beating analysts’ expectations of 96 cents.

Revenue rose 30 percent, to $19.4 billion, topping analysts’ forecast of $18.5 billion.

The company’s commercial-plane backlog increased to $308 billion and had more than 300 orders for the 737 Max jetliner, which is expected to be ready in a few years to compete with the A320neo being developed by European rival Airbus. Both are single-aisle planes designed for short and medium-length flights and are more fuel-efficient than current models. That’s important, with spot prices for jet fuel nearly tripling in the last three years.

In all, Boeing said it now has orders to build more than 4,000 commercial planes. The company did not comment on recent reports that it may be close to winning a big order from United Airlines. United has declined to comment.

Boeing added about 11,000 workers last year as it prepared to speed up production of commercial planes, including its new 787 jetliner in South Carolina. It had 171,700 employees at the end of 2011.

Spokesman Chaz Bickers said the company did not expect to increase its workforce in 2012.

Maxim Group LLC analyst Ray Neidl said the increase in deliveries showed that Boeing “is beginning to ring the cash register on its solid order placement.” He predicted that orders will continue to rise for both small and large commercial jetliners.