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Dassault Aviation seeks more Rafale exports, defends business jets

FILE PHOTO: A Dassault Aviation logo is pictured on the company booth during the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) at Cointrin airport in Geneva

By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Dassault Aviation highlighted negotiations for new Rafale fighter export orders and hit back at European critics of business jets as it posted higher profits on Thursday.

The maker of Rafale warplanes and Falcon business jets posted 2022 operating income of 572 million euros ($604 million), up from 527 million euros the previous year, on net revenue that fell to 6.93 billion euros from 7.23 billion euros.

It booked new orders worth 21 billion euros, including 92 Rafales and 64 Falcons. Shares in the French company were up more than 10% to 176 euros at 1030 GMT.

It delivered 46 jets including 32 Falcons in 2022, down from 55 including 30 Falcons in 2021. It forecast 15 Rafale and 35 Falcon deliveries in 2023 and slightly lower sales, partly due to greater emphasis on the French version of Rafale, for which Dassault does not directly process the sale of all systems.

France had recently slowed deliveries for budget reasons.

CEO Eric Trappier said Rafale production remained below capacity of three planes a month and had scope for more export contracts, adding: "We will go looking for them".

He said Dassault remained in talks to provide 26 carrier-borne Rafales to the Indian navy, in competition with Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet. Unconfirmed Indian news reports have said the navy has told the government it prefers the Rafale.

Trappier confirmed export talks with Colombia and cited other prospects he did not identify. La Tribune newspaper reported in January that Dassault had failed to reach a fighter deal with Bogota at the end of 2022.

France last year placed a "Tranche 5" order for 42 Rafales.

Dassault said the business jet market remained active but had begun to slow towards the end of the year.

It is targeting an entry into service of its new Falcon 6X by the middle of the year but noted supply chain difficulties.

At a news conference, Trappier hit out at what he called "aviation bashing" by environmental groups and reeled off statistics comparing flights to other sectors of the economy.

One year's use of the global fleet of Falcon business jets is equivalent to 24 hours of global video streaming or five hours of worldwide truck traffic, he said.

Environmental groups say industry efforts to curb emissions do not go far enough and need to focus on containing demand, and have particularly taken aim in France at private jet usage, prompting the industry to mount a campaign to restore its image.

Trappier predicted private jets would shift to alternative fuels more quickly than commercial jets because their passengers would be more likely to pay a premium for alternative fuels. Industry officials acknowledge the volumes are lower, however.

($1 = 0.9473 euros)

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Mark Potter)