Measuring the sales and deliveries performance of an aircraft manufacturer over a single calendar year can lead you to false conclusions.

After all, Airframer A may have bested Brand B this time around, but those roles may well be reversed 12 months later.

In other words, viewed in isolation, a single year is important but does not tell you the whole story.

However, when Airbus beats Boeing five years on the trot, one might then reasonably call it a trend.

That is not to say that Boeing is incapable of delivering a stellar 2024 – and a 150-unit 737 Max order from Akasa Air in mid-January is a good start – but it has plenty of ground to make up if it wants to regain parity with its great rival.

Akasa Air 737 Max 8

Source: Akasa Air

A welcome sales lift

The difference between the two firms is most clearly seen in the narrowbody market, were Airbus now has a backlog share just shy of 64%. It has taken total orders for 10,354 A320neo-family jets: almost double Boeing’s total 737 Max commitments of 5,860 aircraft.

And it is at the top end of this segment where Airbus is really pulling away. Sales of the family’s largest member, the A321neo, show no sign of slowing down, with the airframer having booked another 1,279 orders in 2023. Total commitments for the variant now stand at 6,171.

It is an aircraft for which Boeing has no clear answer. The Max 10 offers some competition, but sales have been lukewarm: at year-end the airframer held just 1,063 unfilled orders.

Persuading operators to commit to the variant is also made much harder when the latest service-entry target remains at least a year away.

If Boeing cannot close this widening gap, then perhaps it needs to accelerate its plans for a new aircraft launch.

But the question is less whether Boeing wants to launch a development programme, more whether it is capable of doing so.

A series of strategic missteps appear to have limited its capacity to take the fight to Airbus, and the years spent lurching from one crisis to the next have also taken their toll.

The latest safety scare, which saw an emergency exit door plug blown out of a Max 9 while in flight, points to unresolved manufacturing quality issues at the airframer.

Besides, even if Boeing wants to launch a new jet, it is not yet obvious whether the technology to deliver a meaningful improvement in fuel consumption will be ready soon enough to make a difference.

For example, both narrowbody engine suppliers see next-generation powerplants only arriving around the middle of next decade. Similarly, flight tests of Boeing’s great hope for improved aircraft performance, the transonic truss-braced wing, will only start in 2028.

Can Boeing bounce back? More than 100 years of history suggest so, but past performance is no future guarantee.

On its own, 2024 may not matter, but this year Boeing must begin to buck the long-term trend.