Airbus moves even further ahead of Boeing in global aircraft rivalry

Airbus moves even further ahead of Boeing in global aircraft rivalry

Airbus said on Thursday it would increase deliveries this year of some of the world’s most sought-after planes, bolstering its position as the biggest planemaker and moving further ahead of Boeing as its U.S. rival focuses on the fallout from a major safety crisis. involving its line of 737 Max airliners.

Airbus, the European aerospace giant, plans to deliver around 800 aircraft to its customers this year, including the popular single-aisle A320neo, its main competitor to the 737 Max. Last year it delivered 735 aircraft, more than it had originally planned. This year’s push is aimed at meeting what Guillaume Faury, the planemaker’s chief executive, said was a strong recovery in demand for air travel after the pandemic shutdowns.

Airbus scored a record 2,094 commercial aircraft orders last year, partly due to a surge in demand for narrow-body and medium-sized aircraft from India and other fast-growing countries. This adds to the company’s extensive order book of 8,598 commercial aircraft by the end of 2023.

On the contrary, Boeing delivered 528 commercial aircraft and recorded 1,576 net orders.

Airbus has also started work on preparing a successor to the best-selling A320neo, Faury announced. The new plane would be more fuel-efficient and fly in the mid-to-late 2030s.

The development of that plane, known as the Next Generation Single Aisle, would put Airbus even further ahead of Boeing in terms of cutting-edge aircraft. The plane is intended to burn around 20 percent less fuel per seat and be made entirely from sustainable or synthetic materials. Analysts said Boeing may not have enough funds to advance development of new planes as it prioritizes addressing its quality control crisis.

Airbus reported adjusted earnings of 5.8 billion euros ($6.2 billion) in 2023, a small increase from the previous year, on revenue of more than 65 billion euros. The company added a special dividend, in addition to its usual payment, since its net cash exceeded 10 billion euros.

The company’s profits were hit by a large writedown in its space business, which Faury said Airbus was working to reverse.

But in its core commercial aircraft business, where Airbus and Boeing make most of the world’s planes, the European manufacturer is widening its lead.

To the extent that Airbus has problems, it is to meet the challenge of producing on a larger scale the thousands of airplanes that its customers have ordered. Faury said he had seen great interest from airlines around the world. But supply chain problems have made it harder to meet demand, a dilemma for the company as Boeing’s mistakes have opened up new opportunities.

To that end, Faury said, Airbus is continuing with its plans to raise A320neo production to 75 planes per month in 2026, although probably no more than that for several years afterward.

Boeing had planned to increase production of its 737 model to 50 planes per month around 2025. But the U.S. company suspended its forecasts last month while it addresses quality control issues highlighted by an incident in early January in which A door panel exploded on Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 aircraft shortly after takeoff.

That episode has shaken Airbus’ main rival, prompting a federal investigation in the United States and forcing Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun to focus on assuring customers, regulators and the public that the company is prioritizing safety over profits. .

The crisis has slowed Boeing’s ability to produce more 737 Max planes. The Federal Aviation Administration announced it would limit Boeing’s ability to increase production of all 737 Max planes until the company demonstrated it had resolved its quality control issues.

The Airbus headquarters complex on the outskirts of Toulouse, in southwestern France, is a testament to how quickly the company continues to grow. Airbus opened a new assembly line in Toulouse last summer to support the development of the A321neo. And it recently cut the ribbon on a sleek new welcome center for its customers, in preparation for a deluge of deliveries in the years to come.

On Wednesday, as Faury and Airbus executives put the finishing touches on the company’s earnings announcement, two newly completed Air India A320neo planes, their tails adorned with the airline’s yellow sun logo, were parked at the new delivery center. Other planes, bound for IndiGo and British Airways, were also ready for delivery.

“We are delivering more and we will continue to deliver more,” said Jill Lawrie, head of Airbus’ customer experience team, speaking on the new building’s panoramic terrace, home to a cavernous hangar that used to make the giant A380 superjumbo. had been converted to manufacture the A321neo. “We are growing and we need to be more efficient and create greater capacity to deliver our aircraft.”

At a news conference Thursday, Faury emphasized the need to prioritize quality and safety over quantity, even as the company is working to increase production.

“Quantity cannot prevail over quality,” said Faury. “We don’t want to deliver several planes. “We want to deliver a series of aircraft that are of high quality and safe.”

Mr. Faury emphasized that the company had a strong risk management culture that included extensive training programs for employees and people who came in “not just to learn facts and figures” but also about safety.

Analysts noted that pandemic-era policies supported that culture.

When the pandemic caused a deep crisis in the aerospace industry, Airbus kept most of its employees on partially paid leave, reflecting a policy implemented across Europe to prevent a rise in unemployment and help companies retain employees. experienced and veterans instead of losing them. . Instead, Boeing laid off employees and worked to rehire them once business conditions improved.

To maintain quality and safety controls, “the way to do it is to constantly challenge yourself,” Faury said, “be afraid of what could happen and always think about what could go wrong.”

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John C. Johnson

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