Farnborough Airshow verdict: Boeing reigns over Airbus

In a role reversal from Paris 2011, Boeing reigned over Airbus at Farnborough 2012, courtesy of its 737 MAX aircraft. Liam Stoker reports from the event that saw Boeing fight back in the battle for the single-aisle market.


Aerospace dignitaries and representatives descended upon Farnborough for the 2012 Farnborough Airshow, looking to court interest in aircraft amid a backdrop of eurozone uncertainty and dwindling demand.


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Barclays Capital probably summed it up most appropriately during a note to clients which read: "The mood during this year's Farnborough air show was notably more subdued than the mood last year at Paris."

This was patently evident as sales continued to slump to a mere fraction of those recorded at Le Bourget in 2011.

Clogged order books must also share the blame, but the current economic climate cast a far larger shadow over the show than the showery weather could have ever hoped to.

Despite many predicting a subdued show, Boeing managed not only to trump its rival Airbus in terms of total orders, but also managed to surpass the total it achieved during last year's Paris Air Show, defying the forecast courtesy of its 737 MAX family aircraft.

737 MAX sparks Boeing revival


737 MAX

Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft proved to be the star of the show, reeling in a number of significant orders. Image courtesy of Boeing.


Following a disappointing performance at the 2011 Paris Air Show, Boeing needed its newly-designed 737 MAX aircraft to deliver sales to rival those achieved by Airbus' A320neo at Le Bourget.

"The current economic climate cast a far larger shadow over the show than the showery weather could have ever hoped to."

Pitched at the lucrative single-aisle market, the 737 MAX underwent design improvements in recent months which saw the jet become more fuel-efficient, striking a blow towards one of the A320neo's selling points.

The design improvements were heralded by Air Lease Corp CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy as his company sealed a deal to acquire 75 737 MAX aircraft, with claiming the MAX to be a "wonderful replacement for the classic 737s and other single-aisle aircraft around the world."

Arguably the biggest blow to Airbus from a Boeing perspective will be United Continental Holdings' order for 100 MAX aircraft, which saw Boeing fend off a challenge from European aircraft manufacturer Airbus for the order.

United also ordered for 50 current generation 737 aircraft, representing a total contract value of $14.7bn at list prices, although orders of this magnitude are expected to feature significant sales discounts.

Although Boeing hit back against Airbus at Farnborough, the 737 MAX still has a considerable way to go if it is to thwart Airbus and its A320neo aircraft. To date, Airbus has sold more than 1,450 Neo aircraft, with Boeing still some distance behind with 649 orders for its Max aircraft.

Boeing's Farnborough performance completes reversal


A320neo

The A320neo was unable to replicate the level of success it achieved at Paris 2011. Image courtesy of Airbus SAS.


Although still lagging behind in total sales, the performance of the 737 MAX contributed towards what must be considered a successful Farnborough for Boeing under difficult circumstances.

"Russian carrier UTair placed an order for 20 A321s, the first time UTair has ordered aircraft from Airbus."

Many predicted a subdued show in the wake of increasing uncertainty within the eurozone, with the global economic slump curbing demand for aircraft and sluggish progress with order books certainly seems to prove that assumption.

Boeing will, however, take heart from a show that saw it outperform its main rival.

By the end of the show's final trade day, Boeing had secured orders for 396 aircraft with a total value of approximately $37bn.

This value was not only more than half what Airbus achieved, but an increase of more approximately $15bn over what the company managed at Paris in 2011.

Airbus struggles to tempt airlines


A350

Airbus was buoyed by Cathay Pacific's order of its A350 long-haul aircraft. Image courtesy of Airbus SAS.


"To date, Airbus has sold more than 1,450 Neo aircraft, with Boeing still some distance behind with 649 orders for its Max aircraft."

Whereas Boeing went from strength to strength at Farnborough, boasting a bulging record book by the show's climax, Airbus predictably struggled to reach the heights set at last year's Paris Air Show.

Prior to the close of the show, Airbus' order book stood at $16.9bn, comprising of 54 firm orders for aircraft at $11.1bn, with a further 61 aircraft signed under memorandums of understanding, equating to a total value of $5.8bn.

The Airbus total falls far short of the $72bn worth of business the company recorded at the 2011 Paris Air Show, where the success of its A320Neo aircraft helped the European aircraft manufacturer trounce its US rival.

The lack of orders for Airbus could be attributed to its inability to generate new interest in its aircraft following the success the company received at Paris. Whereas Boeing was able to court a number of airlines and leasing companies, Airbus could only muster a strong commitment from the Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific for its new A350 long-haul aircraft.

Airbus forced to battle A350 and A400M delays


A400M

Airbus had to avoid questions regarding further delays to the delivery of its A400M airlifter. Image courtesy of Airbus SAS.


Cathay Pacific's order for the A350 aircraft came amid a backdrop of assembly problems causing a further month of delays, with Airbus cautioning that there is no margin for the programme to slip further. The problem relates to the drilling of holes on the A350 wing stems, needed to attach the component to the centre wing box.


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As both parts are made of composite materials instead of aluminium, the drilling process becomes harder for the manufacturer to complete.

As a result, workers at Airbus' wing factory at Broughton, UK, are spending three weeks being retrained to put holes into composites, with Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier stating that the company had learnt from the mistakes occurred during the company's last major development programme, the A380. "The biggest lessons we can draw from the past is that we need to move from one step to the other on these big programmes without rushing," Bregier added.

Airbus wrapped its show with a flurry of orders totalling $6.35bn. Russian carrier UTair placed an order for 20 A321s, the first time UTair has ordered aircraft from Airbus, whereas Synergy Aerospace firmed up a $1.9bn order for nine A330s that it had previously made.

Middle East Airline and Avolon also gave Airbus some consolation for the success of Boeing's 737 MAX, ordering ten and 15 A320neo aircraft respectively.

Airbus did, however, spend much of the show batting away questions probing the company for a response to questions surrounding the latest in a string of delays to its A400M aircraft. The latest problem, related to its turboprop engines, is expected to push civil certification back by at least another month.