PARIS (REUTERS) – European planemaker Airbus restored key business targets after generating cash in the fourth quarter, but withheld a dividend as it posted a pandemic-driven loss for 2020 amid the industry’s “most challenging crisis”.

Airbus, which has overtaken US rival Boeing to become the world’s largest jetmaker after a 20-month safety grounding of the Boeing 737 Max, predicted flat 2021 deliveries and adjusted operating profit of €2 billion (S$3.2 billion).

Airbus last month reported 566 commercial deliveries for 2020 and said on Thursday (Feb 18) it aimed for stability in 2021. But it also said it aims to increase underlying output this year, albeit at a slower rate than previously anticipated.

“We have issued guidance to provide some visibility in a volatile environment,” chief executive Guillaume Faury said in a statement, adding that many uncertainties remained for 2021.

The France-based maker of jetliners and helicopters booked a net loss of €1.1 billion (S$1.76 billion) in 2020, a slight improvement over the previous year’s bottom line loss of €1.4 billion.

Full-year operating loss was €510 million, weighed down by charges booked in previous quarters, notably for coronavirus restructuring and the closure of the loss-making A-380 programme.

On a widely watched adjusted basis, Airbus stayed in the black but saw operating profit drop 75 per cent to €1.7 billion as plunging airline demand drove revenues down 29 per cent to €49.9 billion.

Stronger-than-expected jet deliveries in the fourth quarter helped Airbus generate €4.9 billion in cash flow before merger and acquisition, and customer financing, beating a quarterly break-even target.

For the year as a whole, Airbus consumed €6.9 billion as the impact of the coronavirus crisis came hard on the heels of a record €3.6 billion bribery fine agreed in early 2020. Airbus said it expected free-cash-flow break-even in 2021.

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