"We made significant headway in reshaping the company," said Louis Gallois, chief executive of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, in a statement.
The group – which owns Airbus – had posted a loss of €446 million in 2007. Analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast a net profit of around €1.32 billion in 2008.
EADS acknowleged on Tuesday difficulties with its A400M military transport, but Gallois said: "Even if the A400M programme required enormous attention, the group has regained stability in 2008 and is proving to be resilient in the face of the turbulent global economic environment."
The A400M has been plagued by delays, with its first flight postponed to a date that has yet to be determined because of problems with its engines. The overall outlook for this year contained "a mixed level of visibility," but EADS said it "expects Airbus to capture between 300 and 400 new gross orders."
Gallois said that "2009 will be a very challenging year for our industry," but pointed to EADS's broad range of products and added that owing to a "large and well diversified order book 2009 deliveries should remain at high levels."
In addition to Airbus airliners, EADS manufactures helicopters, rockets, satellites and defence communications systems.
The group had "room for manoeuvre," its chief executive said, while stressing that when it came to the bottom line, "cash protection is key."
Last year, EADS operating profit came to €2.8 billion, better than analysts forecasts of 2.42 billion euros and well above the group's own forecast in March 2008 of €1.8 billion.
Sales climbed by 11 percent to €43.3 billion despite a slump in the airline industry, and EADS's order book showed a gain of 18 percent to €400 billion. EADS said its operating profit would likely decrease this year, but nonetheless remain "significantly positive."
The aerospace group planned to offer a dividend of 0.20 euros per share for 2008, it said.
In late February, EADS said it would integrate the former Military Transport Aircraft division into Airbus and create Airbus Military to take charge of all military transport programmes.
The group has named Domingo Urena-Raso, 50, an aeronautical engineer from Spain and a former head of industrial strategy at Airbus, to lead the new unit.