Normally one shouldn’t pay too much attention to the respective sales figures for Boeing and Airbus during the course of each year, because large orders appear irregularly, and while it is interesting to see one manufacturer or the other beating its opponent at some time during the year, the only number that really counts is the final net total new orders at the end of each year.
There is however a less wildly variable number that is significant, and that is the rate of airplane deliveries. Because production lines tend to produce planes at a constant rate, these numbers change very little from one month to the next.
With the first quarter of the 2012 year now completed, it is interesting to note that Boeing is producing planes at a greater rate than Airbus. Boeing delivered 137 planes during the three months, a massive 32% increase over its first quarter of 2011. Airbus delivered 131 planes.
The reason for Boeing’s great increase is due to finally clearing the logjams on its 747-8 and 787 planes. It now seems likely that after nine consecutive years of Airbus delivering more planes than Boeing, 2012 might see Boeing retake the title for most planes delivered in a year.
As for sales, remember that it is still very early days yet, but in the first quarter, Airbus netted orders for 90 new planes, while Boeing netted orders for 412 planes (both figures are after adjusting for cancellations also received during the quarter). That’s a huge edge for Boeing that Airbus will struggle to make good on in the remaining three quarters.
On the other hand, the situation was reversed this time last year, and the reason for the huge imbalance (in both years) is that for most of last year, Airbus was raking in orders for its new A320neo family of planes, and it was only in the latter stages of 2011 that Boeing was able to field a new 737 competitor, so now it is getting, in turn, a rush of orders from loyal 737 customers. In 2011, Airbus netted 1419 new plane orders compared to 805 to Boeing, a huge and unheard of advantage of 614 extra orders to Airbus (for previous years, see my historical charts and data on Airbus and Boeing here).
An accelerated 737 production line, and speeding up of the 787 line will probably see Boeing keep consistently ahead of Airbus for a while in terms of new plane deliveries. The next major Airbus development will be the release of the A350 (which, like its twin, the 787, is also experiencing some delays, and is now expected to first fly commercially in 2014) and then the release of the A320neo in 2015; the next big deal for Boeing will be its new 737 lineup, which is currently projected to take to the air in 2017.
One last data point. Airbus currently has about 350 more forward orders on its order books than Boeing has.
And, a miscellaneous but interesting bit of trivia – here’s a picture showing both the first 787 (on the left) and the first A350 at comparable stages of their construction.