With two weeks left in 2021, whether Airbus or Boeing will finish with more jet orders looks too close to call.
The annual order race between the two rivals, while less critical in a year the coronavirus pandemic has drastically lowered demand, is nevertheless a measure of possible recovery ahead.
Though Airbus had lagged behind Boeing on orders through October, its big sales haul at the Dubai Air Show last month narrowed the gap. The outcome for the year will come down to the number of firm contracts that can be finalized by Dec. 31.
Yet though that result is unclear, Airbus will certainly finish 2021 as the world's top commercial airplane manufacturer for the third successive year in terms of airplanes built and delivered.
With 787 Dreamliner production halted by a manufacturing quality crisis and 737 MAX production still ramping up, Boeing's jet deliveries lag far behind those of Airbus.
Orders race tightens
The state of the rivalry became clear Tuesday when Boeing released its November jet orders and deliveries data, after Airbus' corresponding data release last week.
Boeing won 91 net orders in November, with 109 gross orders and 18 cancellations, and with a further seven airplanes removed from the backlog because the customer financing for those planes was no longer certain enough to count them as firm orders.
Airbus won 243 net orders in November, with 318 gross orders and 75 cancellations.
Its biggest sales splash was an order for 255 A321neos at the Dubai Air Show from Indigo Partners, a U.S. private equity firm that bought the planes for low cost carriers Wizz Air in Hungary, Jetsmart in Chile, Volaris in Mexico and Frontier in the U.S.
All of Boeing's November orders were for the Renton-built, narrowbody 737 MAX. With international travel still at a low level due to the pandemic, it booked no orders for its long-haul, widebody jets built in Everett.Airbus' orders included 16 orders for its A330 widebody jet.
The net order tally through November stands at 400 airplanes for Boeing versus 243 airplanes for Airbus.However, the Airbus total does not include 143 sales commitments announced in Dubai that it will hope to finalize by year end. That includes 111 airplanes for Air Lease Corp. of the U.S. and 28 A321neos for Jazeera Airways of Kuwait.
And Boeing's total of 400 doesn't include a net total of 57 aircraft that were taken out of the backlog as dubious the previous year and returned to the backlog this year when the financial situation of those airline customers improved. These should not really be counted as 2021 orders.
Boeing delivery pipeline still blocked
In terms of deliveries, Boeing remains far behind its rival.
It delivered just 34 planes in November, compared to 58 aircraft from Airbus. Airbus delivered 51 narrowbody A220 and A320 aircraft and seven widebody jets.
Boeing delivered 29 narrowbody jets, consisting of 28 MAXs plus one P-8 anti-submarine plane for the Norwegian military. It delivered five widebody planes, a 747 jumbo jet freighter and four 767 freighters.However, deliveries of the 787 remain blocked as Boeing struggles to fix small manufacturing defects at the fuselage joins and other structural parts.
Its engineers are separately assessing whether a discovery of contamination of the carbon fiber composite material during fabrication of the 787 large structures will also require a fix.
Through November, Airbus delivered 518 airplanes while Boeing delivered just 302.
Airbus has said it aims to deliver 600 deliveries this year. With end of year production typically very high at Airbus, it may make that target.
Boeing's focus is on restarting 787 deliveries and ramping up MAX production to 31 jets per month in early 2022.The 787 paralysis shows no sign of lifting by year end. However, the delivery of 28 MAXs in November was a large step toward its MAX delivery goal from the 18 MAXs delivered last month.
Order backlog totals are dubious
The total unfilled order backlogs at the two manufacturers stand at 7,036 commercial jets for Airbus and 4,210 jets for Boeing.
Boeing's order backlog for the MAX is 3,352 airplanes. Airbus' order backlog for the rival A320neo family is 5,765 airplanes, including 3,323 orders for the hot-selling A321neo model alone.
Notably, however, that Airbus backlog total includes large orders that may never materialize as actual deliveries due to the precarious state of many of the world's airlines.
For example, orders for 78 A330neo widebodies and 30 A321neos narrowbodies from AirAsiaX and an additional 177 A320 orders from Lion Air are in doubt. Both airlines are in dire financial straits.
Boeing too has unfilled orders that look dubious. However, its backlog total doesn't include the most doubtful cases. It has removed from its official backlog more than 1,000 orders of which it can no longer be sure.Boeing doesn't announce which orders those are, but the no-longer-firm-enough list likely includes, for example, 237 MAXs for Lion Air and 129 MAXs for SpiceJet of India.
Just last month SpiceJet announced it had agreed to settle claims with Boeing related to the extended grounding of its MAX fleet. But last week a court in India ordered the airline liquidated due to unpaid debts. The order was stayed for three weeks conditional on SpiceJet coming up with $5 million.