Europe's Airbus posted stronger-than-expected deliveries of 566 jets in 2020, remaining the world's largest planemaker as a year of pandemic-induced upheaval for air travel coincided with a grounding crisis at US rival Boeing.
Deliveries fell by 34 per cent 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 told reporters.
The announcement confirmed a Reuters report on Tuesday that Airbus had delivered more than 560 jets in 2020.
Airbus declined to give 2021 deliver forecasts ahead of full-year earnings due on Feb. 18.
Airbus sold a net total of 268 aircraft last year after adjusting for cancellations, down from 768 in 2019.
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 unassailable lead.
Deliveries of the MAX, grounded in March 2019 following two fatal crashes, resumed last month.
Airbus deliveries rose sharply in the second half of the year compared with the first months of the crisis as Airbus 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.