January 15, 2011
Airbus looks set to leapfrog Boeing and score a surprise last-minute win on orders when it unveils 2010 commercial results next week, industry sources said on Friday.
The world's two leading jet makers are riding a crest of new orders as air travel bounces back from recession and oil prices near USD$100 a barrel accelerate a shift to lower operating costs of new models.
Analysis of a pipeline of preliminary orders waiting to be signed suggests Airbus has the potential to close a significant gap and beat its US rival for the third year running, following a ritual dash to the finishing line.
As numbers were fine-tuned, there was mounting confidence in the European camp on Friday that Airbus would find enough commitments and potentially add more in time to trumpet success at an annual news conference on Monday.
"Airbus should beat Boeing in both net and gross orders," a European industry source said, asking not to be named. Net orders are adjusted for cancellations.
A second industry source said Airbus was confident on orders after lagging behind Boeing for much of the past year and that Monday's figures would demonstrate "the crisis is behind us".
Neither source was prepared to be named because they are not authorised to talk about the matter. Airbus declined comment.
EADS chief executive Louis Gallois, said on Wednesday Airbus sold and delivered more than 500 planes in 2010 but did not say how well it fared against Boeing, which reported 530 net orders.
Stealing the show would be an unexpected win for Airbus as it fast approaches the 10,000th order in its 40-year history.
This week it surprised the industry by announcing the world's biggest potential order by volume with a preliminary 180-plane sale to India's IndiGo.
However, Monday's press conference will also be overshadowed by wrinkles in A380 output following the Qantas jet emergency, demanding schedules for keeping A350 development on track and concerns over the pace at which demand translates into profit.
"It matters less whether Airbus or Boeing won a single year than whether they are doing it right, producing a better bottom line and giving the customer what they want and avoiding delays," said senior BGC Partners strategist Howard Wheeldon.
Gallois this week called EADS' targeted EUR€1.1 billion 2010 operating profit and a flat 2011 outlook "unsatisfactory". Airbus provides two thirds of EADS' income.
Airbus and Boeing are recovering from an industry recession which saw combined demand for their planes fall by more than two thirds in 2009 as passenger and cargo traffic plummeted. However there were still dozens of plane cancellations in 2010.
Delta Air Lines said on Thursday it had opened a contest for 200 jets to replace ageing ones.
By the end of November Airbus had notched up 440 orders, leaving a gap of 185 to catch up with Boeing's full-year total of 625. After cancellations, Airbus had 388 net orders in the first 11 months, 142 behind Boeing's full-year total of 530.
Since the end of November, Airbus has narrowed the gap by announcing 73 orders for A320 jets -- 8 from Irish lessor Avolon, 50 from Chile's LAN, confirming a provisional deal, and 15 from easyJet announced shortly after the new year yet likely to be included in the 2010 total.
Overhauling Boeing may depend on Airbus's ability to close other deals left pending since the 2010 Farnborough air show, notably an order for at least 40 planes from Virgin America as well as 15 mid-sized A350s earmarked for Hong Kong Airlines.
China signed up for 66 extra planes when President Hu Jintao visited Paris in November, but the status of the deal was left vague, nor did the parties say when it would be finalised.
Airbus delivered more planes than Boeing for the eighth year running in 2010. Boeing reported 462 deliveries for the full year compared with Airbus's 461 by end-November.
Airbus was founded in 1970 initially as a consortium between France, Germany and Britain which were later joined by Spain.
By end-November, Airbus had sold a total of 9,874 planes in its history, with industry bosses trying to guess which of their rivals will place the 10,000th order and bathe in the publicity which the airline industry usually lays on for such events.
Boeing has sold 20,663 commercial planes since January 1958, the first month for which records are available on its website.
Both plane makers have thousands of planes on order.