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Chinese airlines are shunning some deliveries of Airbus aircraft, citing fears of coronavirus infection for their staff in the latest tussle over efforts to keep delayed deliveries on track despite the pandemic, industry sources said.

Airbus has pushed Chinese airlines to take delivery of jets now that the domestic market has rebounded to pre-COVID levels. But many airlines are using the pandemic as an excuse to delay deliveries, said one source with direct knowledge of the matter.

“The fact is there is no shortage of aircraft now in the domestic market,” said the source, who declined to be named.

Airbus had no immediate comment.

Airbus deliveries surged in September to a peak since the crisis began but deliveries to China have lagged despite the fact that airlines there are leading a recovery in jet usage.

Airbus delivered 341 jets in the first 9 months including some 39 to China which usually accounts for a quarter of Western deliveries. Airbus was due to update October data on Friday.

Most Airbus planes being delivered to Chinese airlines come from an A320 assembly line in Tianjin, but for other aircraft, airlines need to send staff to Europe. Air China in August sent staff to France to take an A350 while China Southern, also in August, sent a team to Germany to take an A321neo.

Two other industry sources said Chinese airlines were in many cases dragging their heels over sending staff to Europe, noting this comes at a time when demand for jets is thin.

Some special arrangements are being made, however.

Spring Airlines in September took an A321neo assembled in Germany. Due to COVID-related restrictions on cross-border travel, Airbus arranged to have the plane flown to Tianjin, spokesman Zhang Wuan said, adding this suited both sides.

“So our people did not have to travel abroad. Airbus staff headed straight back to Europe after flying the plane here,” said Zhang. (Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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