European jet maker Airbus released its final 2014 delivery and order data in France Tuesday, showing Boeing, as expected, retains its claim to the title of the world’s No. 1 airplane maker.
However, in the latest strategic chess move designed to stake out a competitive advantage in the future, Airbus also formally launched a new, longer-range version of its A321neo, threatening sales of the 737 MAX 9.
Boeing delivered substantially more airplanes than Airbus in 2014, rolling out 723 airplanes to 629 from its European rival.
For the third year running, Airbus sold slightly more jets, with 1,456 net orders last year to 1,432 for Boeing.
However, the Boeing sales have a much higher total dollar value, because they are skewed toward bigger, more expensive airplanes.
Airbus ended the year with 135 net new orders for widebody jets, compared with Boeing’s 328.
In terms of list prices — which both manufacturers inflate, but which can serve for comparison — Boeing’s 2014 net sales were worth $233 billion, while Airbus’s total net sales were valued at $175 billion.
In a news conference in Toulouse, France, Airbus chief Fabrice Brégier said 2014 was “an excellent year.”
“The teams in Airbus not only delivered on, but exceeded their targets and commitments,” Bregier said.
Boeing, which announced its year-end sales and delivery data a week ago, issued a press release savoring its claim to be “the world’s largest airplane manufacturer.”
“What the Boeing team achieved in 2014 is truly unprecedented, especially in the face of fierce competition,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner.
In jet deliveries, Boeing came out ahead for the third consecutive year, after nine straight years before that when Airbus built more jets.
Boeing’s advantage lay in its rolling out many more widebody jets — especially 787s and 777s, as well as 767s and 747s — than Airbus, which has only its A330s and a few of its largest model A380s in that big-jet category.
Boeing handed over 238 widebodies to customers in 2014. Airbus delivered only 139 of these bigger jets, including 30 superjumbo A380s.
That means Boeing airplanes accounted for 63 percent of widebody-jet deliveries.
In 2014 deliveries of the smaller, single-aisle jets, Boeing came close to matching Airbus, something it hasn’t done in a dozen years.
That’s because the 737 workforce in Renton, Wash., reached unprecedented levels of productivity in 2014, ramping up to 42 jets per month.
Boeing delivered 485 of its single-aisle 737s, just shy of Airbus’s 490 deliveries of the rival A320s.
Will Boeing hold onto this 50:50 parity in the small-airplane market?
Some in the industry believe Airbus is positioned better for the future in this segment because, despite the huge success of the 737 MAX, it’s still being outsold by the Airbus A320neo family.
The Airbus A320neo sales edge is most apparent in the largest model, where Boeing has only 286 firm orders for the 737 MAX 9 compared to Airbus’s 755 orders for the corresponding A321neo.
In Toulouse Tuesday, Airbus ratcheted up the pressure in this segment by formally launching a new long-range variant of the A321neo, with a commitment from Steven Udvar-Hazy — the CEO of Air Lease Corp. and the world’s most renowned airplane-market analyst — to take 30 more of this newest model.
“The longer haul single aisle market is a lucrative one that the A321neo will now dominate,” Udvar-Hazy said in a statement.
Airbus is pitching this long-range A321 as a replacement for the out-of-production Boeing single-aisle 757 that some airlines use, for example, on North Atlantic routes between the U.S. East Coast and Europe.
Airbus has suggested the market for this size and range of plane could be 1,000 airplanes.
In a teleconference with journalists Tuesday, Boeing marketing vice president Randy Tinseth dismissed that, saying that only “fifty to sixty 757s are actually flying on these long-range markets today.”
“The thought of a 1,000-airplane market for an airplane of that size frankly is a little bit laughable,” Tinseth added.
Boeing sales chief John Wojick said that the jetmaker continues to study the 757 replacement market, and that when the time is right, it will likely go with a new plane that is both larger and longer-range than the 757 — in other words, a new plane category sized between the single-aisle 737 MAX 9 and the twin-aisle 787-8.
After a year in which Boeing beat Airbus handily in deliveries, but just lagged in new orders, Wojick insisted that deliveries are what count.
The jet manufacturers get paid most of the price of an airplane on delivery. While orders indicate future potential deliveries, some will inevitably be canceled and never be delivered.
“Where the rubber really hits the road is when airplanes actually deliver,” Wojick said.