Okay, so who’s the most successful aircraft maker in the world? Yes I know it’s a silly question, it depends on how you define successful but the two behemoths, Airbus and Boeing, have just released numbers for the fourth quarter that top off their 2014 performance.
The FT reports Airbus hit a new production record to supply 629 aircraft in 2014, marking 13 consecutive years of increased deliveries. Not to be outdone, Boeing delivered 723 aircraft in the period, making the US group the world’s largest manufacturer of aircraft for the third year in a row. So colors to Boeing then? Well, not quite because according to the Telegraph Airbus booked 1,456 net new orders for its aircraft in 2014 – net aircraft being new orders less cancellations, their second-best year ever and down only 3% on 2013 when they sold 1,503 aircraft.
Boeing, by comparison, booked 1,432 new orders in 2014 so, counting new orders, Airbus came out on top. Both firms have massive forward-order books, or a backlog on deliveries depending on how you want to term it. This is great for suppliers, both mills and distributors, who can see a book of business stretching off into the future. No wonder aluminum extrusion and plate mills capable of meeting the requirements of the aerospace industry are investing with more confidence in capacity and supply chain logistics than any other – with the notable exception of automotive which, like aerospace, appears to be on a long-term growth trend for aluminum consumption.
Personally, I treat those order books with a degree of caution. If a global recession developed in 2015/16 – not impossible outside of the US – you could see large-scale cancellations from airlines and leasing companies. Likewise, new engine developments can spur order changes from one model to another.
Airbus’ new A350XWB and Boeing’s Dreamliner, for example, both employ the widespread use of composite materials to make them two of the most fuel-efficient lines of aircraft in service, but they use relatively less aluminum and more titanium than more conventional designs, altering the metals demand picture.
Nevertheless, Airbus is said to have finished 2014 with a higher order backlog of 6,386 aircraft, valued at $919.3 billion at list prices, than Boeing. While Boeing last week said its backlog stood at an all-time high of 5,789 aircraft. Such backlogs have spurred the reselling of aircraft by leasing companies keen to cash in on some customers’ desperation for replacement aircraft. Plane makers are also trying to ramp up their manufacturing and support supply chains to cut backlogs and meet demand but, after supply chain disasters on new models in recent years, they are understandably cautious about pushing the boundaries too far too fast.
S0 who is the best? Pick your own winner. What you can say is both firms have benefited from their duopoly position as the world’s major producers, and their dominance looks set to continue for many years to come in spite of newcomers snipping at their heels.