Airbus and Boeing have had another strong first half, accumulating almost 1,000 net orders and delivering 8% more aircraft than in the same period last year. Backlog has broken through the 7,000 orders mark, rising 7% from the 2007 year-end tally.

While the 962 net orders in the first half is 17% lower than sales in the same period last year, this is still a stronger performance than some were forecasting at the beginning of the year. And despite the increasing financial worries around the world, there are no signs yet of large-scale cancellations, with the 39 negative changes so far being significantly lower than the 67 in the first half of 2007.

2008 H1 sales figures

Airbus is the market leader across all the measures, although its leads are slim. The airframer secured 487 net orders in the first half, 12 more than its rival. Airbus was less reliant on narrowbody sales than Boeing, with its A320 family orders accounting for two-thirds of total sales, while the 737 made up 75% of Boeing's total orders. Airbus's widebody twins had a strong half, with the A330 being the industry's best-selling widebody with 105 orders. The A350 added another 59 orders.

The European airframer again suffered a much higher level of cancellations than Boeing (38 versus one). This was largely due to the readjustment of the A350 orderbook as contracts were migrated (or cancelled) from the earlier version. The A350 suffered 23 cancellations and the A320 family 12.

Sales of A340s remain in limbo, with no orders being placed during the first half and Air Canada cancelling its long-deferred contract for three A340-600s. There was good news for Airbus's other four-engined widebody, with Korean Air placing a follow-on order for the A380, but there were no new customer orders.

While the 737 was the driving force behind Boeing's first-half sales, the 777 and 787 continued to sell well - although at a lower rate than last year. The 747-8 had a slow first half, with just two orders (both for the VIP version) as Boeing prepares for to start assembly of the new model.

The two rivals' output was just four aircraft apart, with Airbus delivering 245 aircraft and Boeing 241. The bulk of production (82% for Airbus and 78% for Boeing) was the narrowbody aircraft. Airbus A330/A340 output was all but matched by that of the 777 (40 versus 39). Four A380s were delivered, but total output will barely break into double digits this year.

Orders backlog

The firm order backlog has reached a new record height of 7,324 aircraft - some 1,600 aircraft higher than this time last year and 476 ahead of the 6,848 at the end of 2007. While the backlog is effectively an exact 50/50 split between the two rivals, Boeing's stronger widebody orderbook (largely driven by the sales success of the 787) means that it is less exposed on the narrowbody side than Airbus: The A320 family accounts for 72% of Airbus's backlog, while the 737 is just 61% of Boeing's.

Source: Flight International