WASHINGTON — Factory orders increased 2.1% in September, their largest gain in eight months, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

Economists expected a 1.6% gain.

Orders excluding transportation rose a second straight month, gaining 0.4%.

Steven Wood, chief economist at Insight Economics, said the gain was mostly due to soaring aircraft orders. Between July 2008 and March 2009, factory orders plunged by 27.0%, he said. They increased 19% between March 2009 and September 2010.

“This has left them 13.1% below the June 2008 peak level,” Wood said. “Demand for manufactured goods has begun a moderate recovery, but it has been weak relative to the magnitude of its previous declines.”

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