A “challenging year” has been projected by the boss of Airbus as the European manufacturer revealed a slowdown in orders and first-quarter profits.

Group orders in the first three months of the year were worth €7.2 billion against €21 billion in the same period in 2015.

The number of orders received in the quarter slumped to 10 from 101.

Operating profits for the three months to March 31 were down to €501 million from €651 million a year earlier, with the commercial airline division seeing a reduced profit of €407 million against €569 million.

The company still expects to deliver more than 650 aircraft in 2016 and its commercial order book is expected to grow.

Group chief executive, Tom Enders, said: “2016 turns out to be the challenging year we anticipated.

“Overall, we expect a stable financial performance but deliveries, cash and earnings will be heavily loaded towards the end of the year. And that already shows in our first quarter performance.

“Operationally, we continue to focus on the production ramp-ups of our Airbus A350 and A320 programmes and on the change-over to the new engine versions of the A320 and A330.

“On the military side, we are now facing a serious challenge for production and customer deliveries of the A400M due to new, unexpected issues on the engine propeller gearbox. It’s very frustrating but we’ll have to work through this with our engine partners.

“So, in a nutshell, despite these challenges we maintain our 2016 guidance and also our earnings and cash growth story for the coming years based on our strong commercial order backlog and the robust, well-resourced production ramp-ups underway.”