As Boeing Production Stalls, Airbus Remains Leading Jet Maker | Business
DOMINIC GATESThe Seattle Times (TNS)
While Boeing has halted 787 deliveries and 737 MAX deliveries have grown only slowly, Airbus has easily overtaken its US rival in 2021, making the European jet maker the world’s leading commercial aircraft company. world for the third consecutive year.
Boeing more than doubled its production performance in 2020 when the high-volume MAX narrowbody jet was grounded. With the MAX back in the air, Boeing delivered 340 jets last year, down from just 157 in 2020.
But Airbus delivered 611 aircraft last year. And for the first time in a decade, its advantage included larger, more expensive jets – Airbus delivered 78 wide-body jets to Boeing’s 77.
Last year, Boeing delivered less than a third of the number of jumbo jets it delivered just two years ago. With long-haul international air travel still at a very low level due to the coronavirus pandemic, few airlines are eager to take on these big planes.
Beyond the lack of demand that has plagued both automakers, Boeing is suffering from self-inflicted wounds.
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It’s still struggling to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that it has a handle on the 787 manufacturing issues that produced minor but unacceptable deviations at structural joints and halted all but a few 787 deliveries in 2021.
The FAA will not give approval to resume deliveries until Boeing can ensure that every plane leaving its factory will meet specifications. A Wall Street analyst predicted that 787 deliveries are unlikely to get that approval before the third quarter of this year. Another cautiously projects a recovery only next year.
Meanwhile, deliveries of the larger 777 jumbo jet are averaging just two a month as Boeing moves to the newest version, the 777X.
The delays have pushed the certification of the 777X back to late 2023 at the earliest. The increased demand for the 777F freighter during the global supply chain crisis is the only thing keeping that assembly line in Everett.
And yet, 2021 has been a year where the aviation world has at least begun to show signs of recovery, however uneven and stuttering.
Domestic flights produced US-packed aircraft. And bilateral agreements have begun to temporarily open limited international routes that had been effectively closed by travel restrictions, including some transatlantic routes.
Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said last year’s partial recovery, after the sharp decline when the pandemic halted air travel in early 2020, gives “confidence in the sustainable growth of air travel post-COVID.”
“Although uncertainties remain, we are on track to ramp up production through 2022,” Faury said in a statement.
In 2021 sales, the two rivals could claim victory
For Airbus and Boeing, the main sign of recovery is new jet orders. On this point, it was unclear which manufacturer came out on top in 2021. It depends on the numbers you choose to count.
Boeing claimed 535 net orders for the year, ahead of Airbus’ 507.
However, this tally from Boeing included 56 orders that were not new. These were orders pulled from the official backlog in 2020 when the downturn left airlines strapped for funding.
According to the usual accounting rules, these orders were then too uncertain to be considered firm. When funding was secured in 2021, these orders were reinstated.
Airbus could argue that it had more net new orders last year, 507 compared to Boeing’s 479.
Boeing argues that when these uncertain orders were removed, they were counted as losses and should therefore now be counted as gains in the recovery.
Airbus does not subtract equally dubious orders from the net order count it makes public.
Another twist: Airbus won a few big, big orders late last year that weren’t finalized in December. Shifting from Boeing to Airbus, Australia’s Qantas has pledged to buy 20 A321XLRs and 20 A220s while Holland’s KLM has pledged to buy 100 A320neos, both to replace aging 737 fleets.
These will be added to Airbus’ order book early in the new year.
For Boeing, 2021 has produced positive sales growth after two years of negative orders.
In 2020, Boeing had a huge negative order tally of -1,026 aircraft, including both questionable orders taken off the books and orders permanently canceled.
Many of them were MAXs as airlines pulled back following the plane’s prolonged grounding after two fatal crashes. They also included 777Xs, as airlines saw the crater of international travel.
A positive tally in 2021 of 479 or 535 orders is a massive turnaround.
The huge demand for air freight has provided a big boost. Boeing has sold 42 of its big 777Fs and 38 of its midsize 767Fs along with the last four big 747Fs that will be built before that assembly line closes later this year.
Otherwise, the pandemic has sharply depressed orders for larger planes from both manufacturers. The surge in Boeing 777X orders was primarily the restoration of nearly 50 orders that had been pulled from the backlog in 2020, as even the large legacy carriers that had launched the plane grappled with the slump in international travel.
With domestic flights doing better, the MAX’s return to service produced repeat orders from Alaska, the Southwest and the United States as well as new airline customers. The 50 MAX order in December from ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant, formerly an all-Airbus airline, was a big win, a counter-defection to those of Qantas and KLM.
Let’s call it roughly even for 2021 orders.
Amid a pandemic-induced downturn worse than any in aviation history, both manufacturers remain well behind in sales about where they were a few years ago. In 2014, each manufacturer won more than 1,400 orders. As recently as 2018, Boeing won just under 900 orders.
Still, with around 1,000 net new orders between them last year, they can at least glimpse what could be a recovery to come.