Airbus earnings cut in half by lingering problems on three plane programs

The planemaker is waiting on a fix for glitches afflicting engines on its new A320neo narrow-body jet, while production delays persist on the twin-aisle A350. Meanwhile, talks with European governments on the troubled A400M military transport are likely to stretch into 2018.

Airbus said three problem aircraft programs will remain a bugbear for the rest of the year after weighing on earnings in the first quarter.

The planemaker is waiting on a fix for glitches afflicting engines on its new A320neo narrowbody jet, while production delays persist on the twin-aisle A350, Airbus said Thursday. And talks with European governments on stemming cost overruns on the A400M military transport are likely to stretch into 2018.

Airbus earnings fell by more than 50 percent in the three months as deliveries of its newest civil models were held up, with the company’s full-year guidance dependent on its achieving significantly higher build rates in the second half. Pratt & Whitney’s proposed solution to the A320 engine issue looks promising but needs to be verified, it said.

“Let’s see whether the fixes coming through are finally confirmed,” Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm said on a conference call. “We still need to see the proof. Demonstrated performance so far is not satisfactory.”

The Toulouse, France-based company said three-month earnings before interest and tax fell to 240 million euros ($262 million) from 498 million euros a year earlier. That fell short of the 326 million euros estimated by analysts.

Deliveries of the A320neo have been slowed by the overheating of Pratt’s new geared-turbofan engines, causing Airbus to prioritize production of an older, lower-margin variant. With the U.S. supplier saying Wednesday that regulators have backed a solution for a faulty carbon seal, Wilhelm said Airbus is taking that in good faith and targeting 200 deliveries in 2017, up from just 26 in the first half. More A320 “classics” could be built if need be, he said.

Progress is being made in resolving supplier issues with the A350, which has suffered a shortage in interior fittings and seats from beleaguered Zodiac Aerospace, Airbus said, though Wilhelm cautioned that Zodiac still needs to improve both production rates and build quality.

Only 13 A350s were delivered in the first quarter and with as many as 40 incomplete planes scattered around Toulouse, Airbus may face a late rush to fit them out in order to meet annual targets, as it did in 2016. The program should reach its goal of 10 deliveries a month by the end of 2018, it said.

In another blow, American Airlines Group said Thursday it would defer deliveries of 22 A350s until 2020 and beyond, having already pushed back the handovers to late 2018 following negotiations with Airbus last year. United Continental Holdings is also reviewing its A350 deal and Delta Air Lines will re-examine the case for its commitments. On the positive side,…

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