Airbus' sales put Boeing in the shade last year, as their order backlogs swung into equilibrium

Max Kingsley-Jones/LONDON

The airliner order and production cycles reached significant points on the graph during 1999, with output peaking but global demand in descent. Airbus Industrie's order performance was its second best ever, with the European consortium comprehensively outselling Boeing.

Output at the Airbus and Boeing plants in Toulouse, Hamburg, Seattle and Long Beach was at its highest ever, as their combined order intake tumbled to the lowest level since 1995. The result is that the order backlog has begun to shrink for the first time in two years, and has dropped below 3,000.

The "big two" took 867 orders between them last year, worth about $59 billion. Although this is slightly better than the pessimistic outlook from 12 months ago, it still represents a fall of around 28% on the 1,000-1,200 annual average sustained between 1996 and 1998. Most observers see a slight intake drop in 2000, although this will largely be driven by key Asian buyers and how quickly the region's "green shoots" of economic recovery develop.

Deliveries for the year totalled 914 aircraft worth an estimated $66.5 billion. For the first time in recent years, Boeing's output - which was an all-time record of 620 aircraft - has been greater than its order intake.

Airbus on the other hand managed to sell almost 200 more aircraft than the 294 it delivered (itself an output record for the consortium), which has pushed the balance of the order backlog into equilibrium for the first time.

Airbus briefly moved into pole position during the fourth quarter (from 42% at the end of 1998), and the situation was only reversed after the rather curious late spurt from Boeing when it suddenly revealed over 160 undisclosed orders (Flight International, 22 December 1999-3 January).

While Boeing output has begun its gradual wind-down to a more moderate 480 units in 2000, Airbus is boosting production again to 307 aircraft. Boeing could face further cuts in 2001, with the middle-aged 757/767 programmes and the once mighty 747 the most likely victims.

Airbus is expected to increase shipments gradually until it achieves an annual level of around 350 aircraft.

Cancellation levels were similar to previous years, with around 90 aircraft , worth an estimated $9 billion, dropping off the books. This pushed the combined net order tally down to 776 units.

The geographical distribution of deliveries in 1999 illustrates how the North American and European markets have helped deaden the impact of Asia's problems.

According to the Airclaims CASE database, 42% of last year's deliveries were to North American operators, compared to 35% in 1998, while European airlines took around 35%, an increase of 6%.

Asian airlines, which accounted for almost one-third of all new aircraft delivered in 1998, took just 17% last year.

Source: Flight International