PARIS (AP) — Airbus delivered a record number of planes last year despite engine and cabin production problems, even as new orders slumped for both the European manufacturer and its U.S. rival Boeing.
An unlikely customer provided a big boost to the industry in 2016: Iran, scheduled to receive its first Airbus plane in years Wednesday as part of a multibillion-dollar deal made possible by a hard-fought nuclear agreement.
Airbus executives played down concerns that the industry is facing a downturn after a long-running buying spree by Mideast and Asian carriers, but refused to issue forecasts for this year. China's slowdown and volatile fuel prices threaten to weigh on aircraft orders.
Airbus announced Wednesday that it delivered 688 planes over the year, primarily in the single-aisle A320 family, compared with 635 in 2015 and above the company's own expectations. Airbus increased deliveries of its long-delayed A350 wide-body to 49 overall.
The A320 range dominated Airbus sales last year, when it won 731 net orders compared with 1,036 the year before.
Boeing says it delivered 748 planes in 2016 and took in 668 net orders, down from 768 orders in 2015.
"I'm confident that we'll have a new record in deliveries" in 2017, Airbus commercial planes sales chief John Leahy said Wednesday in Toulouse. However, he added, "That doesn't mean that orders are going to be strong."
Fabrice Bregier, president of Airbus commercial planes, said that the first half of 2016 was "unusually difficult from a production perspective" but the company managed to speed up output by the end of the year after suppliers fixed problems with engines and cabin equipment.
He said Airbus is now focusing on ramping up deliveries and reducing its big backlog — 6,874 planes ordered but not yet delivered.
Racing with Boeing for business in post-sanctions Iran, Airbus is making the symbolic move of delivering an A321 jet to Iran Air on Wednesday, the first of 100 planes planned in an Airbus deal worth more than $18 billion dollars at list prices.
Iran's flag carrier signed a similar deal with Boeing, for 80 jetliners that won't start arriving until 2018.
Bregier said Airbus would continue work on the Iran planes despite concerns that President-elect Donald Trump could threaten the international nuclear agreement that paved the way for the aircraft contracts.
Airbus delivered its first plane assembled in the U.S. last year, an A321 made in Mobile, Alabama.
Airbus Group, the planemaker's parent company, releases annual financial results Feb. 22.