With two weeks remaining in 2021, whether Airbus or Boeing will end with more aircraft orders seems too close to be announced.
The annual race for leadership between the two rivals, while less critical in a year when the coronavirus pandemic has drastically reduced demand, is nonetheless a measure of a possible recovery to come.
Although Airbus lagged Boeing on orders until October, its big sales at the Dubai Airshow last month narrowed the gap. The result for the year will come down to the number of firm contracts that can be finalized by December 31.
Yet while this result is unclear, Airbus will certainly end 2021 as the world’s leading commercial aircraft manufacturer for the third year in a row in terms of aircraft built and delivered.
With 787 Dreamliner production halted by a build quality crisis and 737 MAX production still on the rise, Boeing’s jet deliveries lag far behind those of Airbus.
The race for leadership tightens
The state of the rivalry became clear on Tuesday when Boeing released its November jet order and delivery data, after the corresponding Airbus data was released last week.
Boeing won 91 net orders in November, with 109 gross orders and 18 cancellations, and with seven more planes taken off the backlog as customer financing for those planes was no longer certain enough to qualify them as firm orders.
Airbus won 243 net orders in November, with 318 gross orders and 75 cancellations.
Its biggest turnover was an order for 255 A321neo at the Dubai Air Show from Indigo Partners, a US private equity firm that bought the planes for low-cost airlines Wizz Air in Hungary, Jetsmart in Chile, Volaris in Mexico and Frontier in the United States.
All Boeing orders in November were for the Renton-built narrow-body 737 MAX. With international travel still at a low level due to the pandemic, it has not recorded any orders for its wide-body long-range jets built at Everett.
Airbus’ orders included 16 orders for its widebody A330.
Total net orders through November amounted to 400 aircraft for Boeing against 243 aircraft for Airbus.
However, Airbus’ total does not include the 143 sales commitments announced in Dubai that it hopes to finalize by the end of the year. This includes 111 aircraft for Air Lease Corp. from the United States and 28 A321neo for Jazeera Airways from Kuwait.
And Boeing’s total of 400 does not include a net total of 57 aircraft which were taken off the order book as questionable the previous year and returned to the order book this year when the financial position of those airline customers s ‘is improved. These shouldn’t really be counted as 2021 orders.
Boeing’s delivery pipeline still blocked
In terms of deliveries, Boeing remains far behind its rival.
It delivered only 34 planes in November, compared to 58 Airbus planes. Airbus delivered 51 A220 and A320 narrow-body aircraft and seven widebody jets.
Boeing delivered 29 narrow-body planes, including 28 MAXs and a P-8 anti-submarine aircraft for the Norwegian military. It delivered five widebody, one 747 jumbo-jet cargo and four 767 freighters.
However, deliveries of the 787 remain on hold as Boeing strives to correct small manufacturing flaws in fuselage junctions and other structural parts.
Its engineers are separately evaluating whether a discovery of contamination of the carbon fiber composite material during the manufacturing of the 787 large structures will also require a solution.
Until November, Airbus delivered 518 planes while Boeing delivered only 302.
Airbus has announced its intention to deliver 600 deliveries this year. With generally very high end-of-year production at Airbus, this goal could be achieved.
Boeing’s goal is to restart 787 deliveries and increase MAX production to 31 jets per month by early 2022.
The 787 paralysis shows no sign of resorption by the end of the year. However, the 28 MAX delivery in November was a big step towards its MAX delivery target compared to the 18 MAX delivered last month.
Order book totals are questionable
The total order book of the two manufacturers amounts to 7,036 commercial jets for Airbus and 4,210 jets for Boeing.
Boeing’s order book for the MAX is 3,352 aircraft. Airbus’ backlog for the rival A320neo family is 5,765 aircraft, including 3,323 orders for the single, highly sold A321neo model.
Notably, however, Airbus’ total order book includes large orders that may never materialize as actual deliveries due to the precarious condition of many airlines around the world.
For example, orders for 78 A330neo widebody and 30 narrow-body A321neos from AirAsiaX and 177 more A320 orders from Lion Air are uncertain. Both airlines are in dire financial straits.
Boeing also has unfulfilled orders that look questionable. However, its total backlog does not include the most dubious cases. He has withdrawn from his official order book more than 1,000 orders of which he can no longer be sure.
Boeing does not announce what orders these are, but the list which is no longer firm enough probably includes, for example, 237 MAX for Lion Air and 129 MAX for SpiceJet of India.
Last month, SpiceJet announced that it had agreed to settle claims with Boeing over the extended downtime of its MAX fleet. But last week an Indian court ordered the airline’s liquidation over unpaid debts. The order was put on hold for three weeks on the condition that SpiceJet provided $ 5 million.