A380 slowdown blots record Airbus output

 @ibtimes
on January 12 2010 6:56 AM

Airbus confirmed forecast-beating sales and record deliveries for 2009 on Tuesday but admitted disappointment over a fall in A380 output and pledged to speed up production of the world's largest airliner.

Company officials also renewed pressure on European governments to make concessions in a nine-month row over missed budgets and deadlines on the A400M military transport plane, which Airbus insists it cannot build without more resources.

Airbus, part of aerospace group EADS, has been grappling for years with delays on its star civil and military aircraft developments, two of Europe's largest industrial projects.

But although A380 output fell in only its second full year of production, Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders said an internal audit had found ways of making it more efficiently.

Airbus delivered 10 superjumbos compared with 12 in 2008 and an initial 2009 target of 18. Enders said half of this shortfall of eight planes stemmed from airline requests for delays due to the weak economy and the rest from a year-end production logjam.

Delivery delays exacerbated already galloping costs.

I am not at all happy with the (A380) cost situation, which still needs significant improvement, Enders told reporters attending an annual company presentation in Spain.

The A380 will still be a financial liability for some years to come, but it is an investment for the long term, he said.

Shares in EADS were 3.7 percent lower by 0950 GMT.

Airbus delivered a record 498 planes last year, up from 483 in 2008. It beat Boeing for the seventh year running.

Enders said Airbus planned to keep overall 2010 deliveries at roughly the same levels seen in the past two years.

But despite higher Airbus plane deliveries, EADS said group revenue fell 3.6 percent to about 41.7 billion euros in 2009, 1 billion euros below market consensus forecasts.

The world's second-largest aerospace group after Boeing had forecast roughly stable revenue compared with the previous year's record 43.27 billion.

Airliner deliveries, which have an immediate impact on financial performance, have carved out new records despite the recession, which led to a 60 percent drop in new plane orders.

Output is sustained by a lag in production from an order boom peaking in 2007, as well as publicly backed export credits and efforts to ensure those with financing can jump the queue so that aircraft are not left out on the tarmac without a buyer.

Airbus beat its forecast for up to 300 new orders with a tally of 310 sales in 2009. But these came in at just a third of the 900 gross orders seen a year earlier. Airbus data suggested some pick-up in demand toward the end of the year, however.

After adjusting for order cancellations, Airbus sold almost twice as many planes as its U.S. rival in 2009 with net sales of 271 aircraft compared with Boeing's 142. Boeing has been hit by cancellations of its delayed 787 Dreamliner.

Airbus predicted new orders would again fail to keep up with deliveries in 2010 but said it felt adequately cushioned by a backlog of 3,488 aircraft, or six years' of production.

Enders reiterated that Airbus was seeking a very significant contribution from governments in Europe to shore up the loss-making A400M military plane project. Talks among seven nations backing the project are due to resume later this week.

EADS Chief Executive Louis Gallois said it was in everyone's common interest to keep the 20 billion euro project alive.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher and Matthias Blamont; Editing by James Regan)

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