With Boeing production stalled, Airbus remains No. 1 jet maker

Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Airbus does not subtract similarly dubious orders from the net order tally it makes public.

Another twist: Airbus won a couple of large and important order commitments late last year that weren't finalized in December. Defecting from Boeing to Airbus, Qantas of Australia committed to buy 20 A321XLRs and 20 A220s while KLM of Holland committed to buy 100 A320neos, both to replace fleets of aging 737s.

Those will be added to the Airbus order book early in this new year.

For Boeing, 2021 produced positive sales progress after two years of negative order tallies.

In 2020, Boeing recorded a huge negative order tally of -1,026 jets, including both the dubious orders taken off the books and definitively canceled orders.

Many of those were MAXs as airlines pulled out following the prolonged grounding of that aircraft after two fatal crashes. They also included 777Xs, as airlines saw international travel crater.

A positive tally in 2021 of either 479 or 535 orders is a massive turnaround.


The huge demand for air freight provided a big lift. Boeing sold 42 of its large 777Fs and 38 of its midsize 767Fs as well as the final four jumbo 747Fs that will be built before that assembly line closes later this year.

Otherwise, the pandemic severely depressed orders for larger planes from both manufacturers. The Boeing bump in 777X orders was mainly the restoration of almost 50 orders that had been taken out of the backlog in 2020 as even the large legacy carriers who had launched that plane struggled with the collapse of international travel.

With domestic flying faring better, the MAX return to service produced repeat orders from Alaska, Southwest and United as well as new airline customers. The order for 50 MAXs in December from ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant, previously an all-Airbus airline, was a big win, a counter defection to those from Qantas and KLM.

Let's call it about even for 2021 orders.

In the midst of a pandemic-driven downturn worse than any in aviation history, both manufacturers remain well short of sales anywhere close to where they were a few years ago. In 2014, each manufacturer won more than 1,400 orders. As recently as 2018, Boeing won just shy of 900 orders.

Still, with about 1,000 net new orders between them last year, they can at least glimpse what could be a recovery ahead.

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