Soaring High: Airbus Takes Off with Record Orders, Leaving Boeing in the Dust

The world’s top planemaker, Airbus SE (AIR.PA), reported a new order record on Thursday and a big jump in annual jet deliveries in 2023, keeping the European company in the top manufacturing spot against rival Boeing (BA.N) for a fifth year as airlines scramble to renew fleets. Airbus won 2,319 gross orders and 2,094 net orders after cancellations, bringing the total commercial aircraft backlog to 8,598 airplanes.

A surge in orders and a recovery in travel demand helped Airbus exceed pre-pandemic order levels for the first time since it was hit by supply chain issues as the coronavirus crisis unfolded. The company is also benefiting from a shift to a more customer-driven market, with airlines and leasing companies chasing the best value as global economy recovers.

Airbus said it delivered 735 airplanes in 2023, beating its target of 720 deliveries. That was aided by the fact that it had an extra month of production after the end of its financial year, which allowed it to push ahead with its delivery targets. The European OEM handed over 42 narrow-body jets, split between the A220 and A320 families of aircraft, as well as 39 wide-body A350 family jets.

It is not yet clear whether it will meet its 2019 delivery targets, which was set at the Paris Air Show in June this year. But Christian Scherer, chief executive of the core commercial aircraft business, said demand had picked up faster than expected and it would deliver on its promise to its customers. He also confirmed that Airbus is now sold out for single-aisle jets until the end of the decade and for widebodies until 2028. He added that the A321XLR, the latest version of the largest-selling single-aisle model, is poised to start deliveries next year.

Boeing, which was battered by a series of setbacks including the safety grounding of its 737 MAX jet in October last year, is also battling to catch up with its production schedule. Boeing landed 528 jets in 2023, a little short of its goal of 532.

Both manufacturers have struggled to keep up with demand for aircraft, but analysts say Airbus is the better placed to deliver on its commitments because it has more flexibility in its production process than its U.S. rival, especially when it comes to sourcing supplies.

As the aerospace industry recovers, Airbus has a chance to extend its lead over Boeing as it begins to deliver jets at the fastest rate in history. But it will need to overcome shortages of parts and ensure that its supply chains can support the pace of production over the long term if it is to sustain a dominant position. Reuters supply chain expert Tom Enders says that will require more cooperation between suppliers and a better understanding of the challenges facing the wider industry. Enders is the founder and editor of Supply Chain Matters, an online publication that covers supply chain topics.

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