Both airplane manufacturers have now reported their results for 2011. Both enjoyed excellent years, with orders and deliveries up on 2010.
In terms of sales, Airbus reported new orders for 1608 planes, but it also had cancellations for 189 planes, which gave it a net of 1419 new planes ordered. Boeing reported 921 new orders, with 116 cancellations, dropping its net new order figure down to 805.
Both numbers are hugely up on last year. Airbus went from 574 net new orders in 2010 up to 1419 in 2011, and Boeing went from 530 up to 805.
We always consider sales figures with a grain of salt. As the reference to cancelled orders indicates, sales are seldom firm and inviolable, and both the airlines and the manufacturers sometimes game their sales figures, either shifting forward or back the announcement of sales, and/or possibly giving a too-generous interpretation to sales that are more conditional than firm. However, whatever way you slice and dice the numbers, it seems plain that Airbus cleaned Boeing’s clock in terms of sales for 2011; with the main reason for this being the early announcement by Airbus of its A320neo and the massively delayed response by Boeing to settle on its upgraded 737 (a model of plane that has still to be finalized).
In terms of deliveries – which is a much more absolute number and more difficult to be creative with, Boeing reported 477 new planes delivered compared to Airbus’ delivery of 534 new planes. This compares with 462 and 510 deliveries, respectively, in 2010.
The delivery count changes more slowly from year to year, because the two companies are basically producing planes as fast as their production lines will allow them to do so, due to typically having over five years of backlogged ordered in the pipeline at any time. Indeed, at the end of 2011, Boeing had a backlog of 3,771 planes and Airbus had 4,437 planes on its order books. These numbers represent a good seven years of deliveries.
The airplane manufacturers need to walk a fine line between too much backlog and too little. With very slow changes to airplane models and production line capacities, they need to have the certainty of future work and so a backlog is a good thing to have.
But on the other hand, the airlines sometimes want to get planes urgently quickly, and will order from whichever source can get them planes the soonest. It is interesting to note though that new plane orders don’t automatically go to the end of the line. There is quite a lot of trading places (and even outright buying and selling positions in the backlog line). It is quite common for an airline to find itself not wanting to take delivery of planes as quickly as it had committed to, so often a win-win arrangement allows one airline to defer/delay its deliveries and another airline to jump the queue and get planes sooner.
On the other hand, airlines don’t always need airplanes urgently quickly. It often suits them to have a slow and extended delivery program into the future too. So some of the backlog is in the form of airlines who want to wait, while other parts of the backlog is comprised of airlines impatiently waiting and keen to get their new planes.
Overall, Airbus took in more orders than Boeing for the fifth year in a row, and delivered more planes than Boeing for the ninth year in a row, and has 666 more planes in its order backlog than Boeing.
I’ve now updated the web page that has a historical series of statistics on orders, sales, and other data about Boeing and Airbus airplanes to include the 2011 results.