Airbus SAS pushed back planned entry into service of its A350 aircraft by as much as six months as some parts arrive late.

Share story

Airbus pushed back the A350’s planned entry into service by as much as six months as some parts arrive late, marking a setback in the plane maker’s effort to challenge Boeing’s dominance in widebody jets.

Assembly will start in the first quarter of next year, rather than late in 2011, Airbus parent European Aeronautic, Defence & Space (EADS) said Thursday, as it reported earnings that beat estimates. First delivery is set for the first half of 2014 instead of the end of 2013.

The delays will lead to a charge of 200 million euros ($271 million), EADS said.

It’s the second push-back on the A350, as Airbus moves along more cautiously to avoid the mistakes of its A380 double-decker program that was years behind schedule.

Airbus is struggling to manage hundreds of suppliers and new composite technologies that also stymied Boeing’s development of its 787 Dreamliner, which entered commercial service last month, more than three years later than planned.

“We’ve not yet flown the aircraft,” EADS Chief Financial Officer Hans Peter Ring said Thursday. “We have a lot of years to go before ramp-up so this is what we know today.”

Ring announced the delay as EADS reported that its profit rose to 312 million euros from 13 million euros a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had estimated a loss of 30 million euros.

Sales dropped 4 percent to 10.75 billion euros.

Qatar Airways, the biggest customer for the A350, with 80 on order, is also the first airline scheduled to get the plane. Ring said the charge is mainly attributable to payments for loss-making airline contracts. He declined to identify individual customers.

On the A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft, Airbus shipped many parts to the final-assembly line in Toulouse, France, before they were ready to be pieced together. This time around, Airbus will use a “stop-and-fix policy,” Ring said, which lets it address difficulties as they occur rather than letting them pile up.

The order backlog for the A350 includes 75 for the A350-1000 and 373 for the A350-900. The smallest, 250-seat A350-800 variant, which carriers have been moving away from to switch to larger models, has 119 orders.

Airbus also announced Thursday that it has ended production of its four-engine A340 aircraft after the jet lost out to Boeing’s twin-engine 777 model.

“In an environment where the fuel price is high, the A340 has had no chance to compete against similar twin engines, and the current lease rates and values of this aircraft reflect the deep resistance of any airlines to continue operating it,” said Bertrand Grabowski, managing director of the transport group at DVB Bank, among the biggest aircraft financiers in Europe.

The A340, which held the record as the longest civil aircraft until Boeing stretched its 747-8 jumbo, fits up to 375 passengers and can fly nonstop from Singapore to Los Angeles. Airbus has said the four engines make the aircraft better suited to traverse remote areas such as oceans and mountain ranges.

The program is the shortest-lived so far for Airbus, which saw orders for the jet dry up after safety regulators began allowing twin-engine models such as the Boeing 777 to fly long routes without having to stay close to emergency-landing areas. There are 365 A340s in operation today.

“It’s sad, as it was a beautiful plane and very nice to fly on, but the plane was too heavy and there was a big fuel-burn gap between the A340 and Boeing’s 777,” said Nick Cunningham, an analyst at London-based Agency Partners.