Airbus marks record deliveries

Airbus kept its rank as the world's top planemaker last year after handing over more aircraft than Boeing Co., while missing its target for the A380 superjumbo, which will stay a "financial liability" for years.

The France-based planemaker delivered 498 jets in 2009 and won 271 plane orders, CEO Tom Enders said Tuesday in Seville, Spain. Chicago-based Boeing, which was passed by Airbus in 2003, finished with 481 deliveries and 142 orders.

The record deliveries contrast with the deepest economic contraction worldwide in half a decade, as Airbus juggled its order book to replace struggling clients with airlines that agreed to earlier delivery of planes. Enders said Airbus is still moving too slowly building the A380 as the company struggles with the complexities of the double-decker plane.

"The A380 will still be a financial liability of the company for years to come," Enders said. "I'm not happy with the cost situation, it needs significant improvement." Airbus will embark on a "major improvement program" to lower production costs on the jet, he said.

Airbus aims to keep deliveries and orders about level with those of 2009 and 2008, when it shipped 483 planes, Enders said. Airbus aims to deliver 20 A380s in 2010, double the number achieved last year. The company's total gross order intake before cancellations was 310, compared with 263 for Boeing.

The company began 2009 with a goal of delivering 18 A380s, before dropping the target to 14 after some airlines asked to defer. In the end, the planemaker delivered 10.

Any curtailments to production this year would occur in "small steps" if necessary, Enders said. At present, there is no need to cut production either of short-range single-aisle planes or on the larger long-range jets, he said.

"Barring any new economic crisis at this point I'm quite confident we can keep production roughly at the level" of the past two years, Enders said.

The planemaker is making "good progress" on its wide-body A350 plane, scheduled for first delivery in 2013, Enders said. That model will compete with Boeing's 777 and the new 787 Dreamliner, which performed its maiden test flight last month.

Siphoning resources needed for the commercial programs is the A400M military transport plane, which flew for the first time in Seville last month. Airbus is spending $145 million a month on the plane, a level the company and parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. aren't able to sustain without renegotiating the accord, Enders said

"In its current form, the A400M program puts all of Airbus in jeopardy," Enders said. "We will do everything possible and reasonable to continue the program."