Airbus and Boeing see orders collapse as deliveries hit record levels

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First-half data from Airbus and Boeing confirms that the mainline airliner builders have suffered a major collapse in orders and surge in cancellations, while output has reached record levels.

The two airframers accumulated 175 gross orders between them in the first six months - 90 for Airbus and 85 for Boeing- but endured 106 cancellations, which brought gross orders down to just 69. This compares with a combined 962 net orders in the first half of last year.

Boeing bore the brunt of the cancellations with the loss of 84 orders - the bulk of them for the 787 (73). However, the airframer was able to end the period in the black - just - to the tune of a single net order.

Airbus had significantly fewer cancellations- 22 - which ensured it was well ahead in net orders, on 68.

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While both airframers have seen a significant slowing of orders across their product lines, it is their widebody models that have fared worst. Two types suffering particularly badly were the A340 and 747-8, neither of which secured any new orders but suffered a cancellation each.

The order numbers look bad even by comparison with the industry's last slowdown after 9/11. In the first half of 2002, Airbus and Boeing accumulated a total of 273 gross orders, which declined to 238 net.

Despite plans to slow output growth, production hit record levels in the first half of 2009,with Airbus and Boeing delivering exactly 500 aircraft between them, compared with 486 in the same period last year.

Hamburg and Toulouse slightly edged Seattle in the first half with 254 shipments against 246. Their full-year outlooks suggest their final tallies will be also very close, with each on course to deliver around 480 aircraft.

The effect of the order slump combined with the high cancellation tally and delivery rate is that the backlog has begun declining for the first time in six years. A 6% fall from the end of last year has seen the two rivals' unfilled orders decline to just below 7,000 units, with Airbus holding a marginal market share advantage.

At last month's Paris air show the airframers pointed to their huge backlogs as insulation against the order drought, downturn and the need to slash production rates.

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However Teal Group's vice-president analysis Richard Aboulafia does not concur: "At the bottom of the last market trough in January 2003 there were 2,700 jets on backlog...yet production rates fell by 30%," he says.

"People deferred en masse, and the backlog did nothing to protect the industry."