Boeing vs. Airbus: No winner yet in war of aerospace titans

In 2013, the rivals run neck-and-neck in commercial aircraft market.

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For those who miss the bipolarity of the Cold War, rest assured that there remains a corner of the world in which two (corporate) giants still slug it out year after year, pushing each other in a competitive battle that shows no signs of abating.

Boeing (Seattle, Wash.) and Airbus (Toulouse, France) recently reported their numbers for aircraft orders, deliveries and backlogs, through Dec. 31, 2013. It’s hard to declare a “winner,” but each planemaker can at least rest comfortably in the knowledge that 2013 was a record-setting year in its history. In short, 2013 looked like this for the two firms (all figures are aircraft units):

One of the very attractive aspects of making large commercial airplanes is the fact that accumulating a large backlog is not only acceptable but, in some ways, beneficial. A large backlog communicates to the planemaker’s supply chain just how much work (and revenue) they can count on, and it signals to the broader aerospace market just how healthy the industry is.

By any measure, the commercial aerospace industry, today, is pretty healthy. A backlog of 5,000+ units guarantees about eight years of work, and concurrent revenue and profits. And the rapid pace of manufacturing and assembly of deliverable aircraft displayed by both shows a level of efficiency not seen in the aerospace industry in many years.

This is true not only of Airbus and Boeing, but of all commercial aircraft manufacturers. Taken together they are likely to make 2013 one of the healthiest years in more than a decade. Most intriguingly, the OEM landscape is likely to change in the coming years. Right now, there are only four commercial aircraft manufacturers: Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier (Montréal, Québec, Canada) and Embraer (São José dos Campos, Brazil). But Shanghai, China’s COMAC is working on its C919, and Moscow, Russia-based Irkut is prototyping parts for its MS-21. When these — both single-aisle jets —  appear, this space is likely to be more crowded and competitive.

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