Alabama plant helps Airbus jet deliveries hit record

Alabama plant helps Airbus jet deliveries hit record
An Airbus SE A321 plane fuselage is lifted with a crane at the company's final assembly line facility in Mobile. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Airbus SE delivered a record 863 planes last year, edging beyond its target of about 860 after overcoming production snarls with its best-selling A320 family, the chief rival to Boeing Co.’s grounded 737 Max.

Bigger versions of Airbus’s largest A321neo narrow-body also drove net orders 2.8% higher to 768 aircraft, it said Friday, as airlines snapped them up to replace costlier twin-aisle planes on mid-distance routes or to cram in extra seats on shorter legs. During the year, customers canceled orders for 363 planes.

The A320 family of jets is what Airbus assembles at its Alabama plant in Mobile. A second assembly operation Airbus operates in the Port City assembles the smaller A220s.

The delivery tally means Airbus is set to displace Boeing as the world’s biggest plane-maker when the U.S. firm, hobbled by the crisis around the Max, reports production figures next week. The European company faced its own hurdles, with a wider range of cabin options on the A321 delaying handovers and requiring it to lift December output 75% from November to reach its target.

Airbus had initially targeted 880 deliveries across its jetliner range for 2019, but cut 20 planes from the total in October as its plants fell behind schedule. Each missed jet could have wiped $11 million or more off profit, Citi Research analyst Charles Armitage estimated last month.

Airbus Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury has said narrow-body production may not be back on track until 2021, by which time production is due to hit 63 planes a month, versus 60 now. Airbus said Thursday it would lift output in Mobile by then to seven A320s monthly from the present five.

Sales last year were led by A321s. United Airlines last month agreed to buy 50 of the planes, joining a customer base that also includes American Airlines Group Inc., Qantas Airways Ltd. and JetBlue Airways Corp.

Boeing will halt Max production this month after deciding it could no longer keep making planes it’s unable to deliver. The grounding was imposed after two fatal crashes and has dragged on. The 737 is its top seller and a major source of profit, so both deliveries and orders will take a hit when the U.S. company’s 2019 figures are disclosed.

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