Airbus remains world’s largest planemaker in a pandemic struck 2020

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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European aerospace company Airbus posted stronger-than-expected deliveries of 566 jets in 2020, remaining the world’s largest planemaker in a bad year for air travel coincided with a grounding crisis at US rival Boeing.

Deliveries fell by 34 percent from a record posted a year earlier, when travel demand was riding high on the increasing mobility of consumers in fast-growing markets across Asia.

Now, the aerospace industry is wrestling with the reluctance of most airlines to take delivery of jets as they struggle to save cash, and a drop in air traffic that Airbus says could take until 2023 or 2025 to regain the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

Still, Airbus said it had delivered 566 aircraft in 2020, exceeding estimates earlier in the year when the coronavirus crisis led to a lockdown of major travel markets. “We can be cautiously optimistic for 2021 but challenges and uncertainties remain high,” Chief Executive Guillaume Faury said.

Airbus declined to give 2021 deliver forecasts ahead of full-year earnings due on February 18.

A bad year for the rival

Hampered by the grounding of its best-selling 737 MAX, Boeing delivered 118 jets between January and November and had a negative total of 454 net orders before accounting adjustments, giving Airbus an undefeatable lead. Deliveries of the MAX, grounded in March 2019 following two fatal crashes, resumed last month. The company has been asked to pay $2.5 billion in compensation and fines to settle the criminal probe against the crashes.

Airbus deliveries rose sharply in the second half of the year compared with the first months of the crisis as it made a push for delivery agreements with many airlines, in some cases allowing for temporary storage, according to industry sources. But Airbus said virtually all new planes had entered service, even though many were not being flown as intensively as they would have been before coronavirus upended growth plans.

Order cancellations

Airbus has told a Malaysian court it stands to lose more than $5 billion worth of orders. In total Airbus lost orders for 26 wide-body jets last year, reflecting a slump in intercontinental travel that is expected to be the slowest segment to recover after the pandemic.

They were, however, dwarfed by cancellations reported by Boeing after airlines and leasing companies cancelled hundreds of orders for the MAX during the grounding.

With the industry’s main showcase, the Paris Airshow, cancelled in 2021, Airbus cautioned it did not expect a return towards big-ticket jet orders while travel remained depressed.
“It will be a while before we are back on an even keel,” Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer said.