- The world’s two biggest plane makers went head-to-head at the Paris Air Show this week, aiming to outdo each other on sales and visions of the future.
- But Boeing came in at a disadvantage compared to its European rival Airbus as it deals with the fallout from its two crashed 737 Max planes, and issues with some of its other aircraft.
- Airbus outsold Boeing, announced a new plane, put on a better show, and was not dogged by questions of safety.
- But Boeing managed big orders, scored some unexpected victories that riled Airbus, and gave a commanding vision of its next decades.
- Read more stories like this on Business Insider.
Boeing managed to hold back its European rival Airbus at the Paris Air Show this year, announcing unexpected successes and avoiding the prospect of a public face plant during one of its worst-ever years.
The world’s two largest plane makers battle for sales and buzz at every major air show.
This year Airbus managed to sell more planes and debut more products, while Boeing was left answering questions about its problems.
The event could have been disastrous for Boeing, still facing fallout from two crashes of its 737 Max planes, and issues with some of its others models.
Instead, the company had some unexpected successes that put pressure on its rival and presented a clear vision for its future.
The 737 Max crisis dominated, but Boeing still manged to get out from under it
Boeing entered the Paris Air Show with its top-selling plane model grounded around the world over two fatal plane crashes which killed almost 350 people, putting the company at the center of one of the most damaging news cycles imaginable.
The aftermath is still being strongly felt. Boeing faces pressure from regulators, lawsuits from around the world, and demands for compensations from the airlines that are its biggest customers.
Its CEO began proceedings one day before the show, admitting in an interview Sunday that the company made "mistakes." It set a tone his executives would follow on the first day of the show as they apologized and answered questions about the Max.
But Boeing managed to get out from under the issue as the show progressed, and attention turned to its sales and future products.
Boeing even announced that one of the world’s largest airline groups will buy a new fleet of 200 737 Max planes. The a $24 billion order is both a much-needed vote of confidence, and the first public order for the planes since the second 737 Max crashed in March.
The order from International Airlines Group (IAG) — which owns British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Iberia — visibly riled Airbus, which was left complaining that had not had a fair chance to compete for the order.
REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
Reuters reported that the order could threaten Airbus’ grip on Europe’s short-haul routes.
Airbus’s Chief Commercial Officer, Christian Scherer, told reporters on Thursday that the company "would like a chance to compete for that business."
The bottom line: Airbus sold more planes, and put on a better show
Airbus kicked off the Paris Air Show by announcing the order of 100 planes. That day, Boeing only announced an order for 10 converted freighters.
While Airbus ultimately sold more planes at the show, which it announced in smaller batches, Boeing managed to pull back and announce major orders in subsequent days, keeping pressure on Airbus.
On Thursday morning, Airbus announced that its firm orders and commitments added up to 363 commercial planes. The public total for Boeing at time of writing stands at 268.
Part of Airbus’ orders includes 50 new planes for American Airlines to replace some of its ageing Boeing planes — a blow for Boeing, which has a strong track record of selling to US carriers.
Airbus also managed to put on a better show at the event — Airbus had two commercial jets, a helicopter, and a military plane perform during impressive flying display, while Boeing just had one, a 787-9 jet.
ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images
Some of this discrepancy can be explained by the fact that the Paris Air Show is in Europe, Airbus’ home, and that Airbus has more to celebrate in 2019, its 50th anniversary.
But Boeing was supposed to have more planes at the show.
It had planned to bring its 777x to the show, but problems with its GE-manufactured engine scuppered the appearance.
As Airbus announced a new plane, Boeing was left looking for answers
Airbus announced a new plane on the first day of the air show: the A321XLR.
It announced the long-range, single-aisle airliner — a smaller plane that can do long-haul flights — along with the news that it had already sold 27 of them, and announced more orders for the plane throughout the week.
ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images
The plane gives Airbus access to an untapped market, one that Boeing had been considering entering for years but is yet to reach.
In contrast, Boeing had nothing new to announce, and was left answering questions about how it would counter the A321XLR, plus ongoing scrutiny of the issues with its current planes.
There was speculation that Boeing would have a rival jet to the A321XLR ready to be announced at the show, but this ultimately did not come to pass.
Instead executives tempered this expectation, and indicated that there would be no rival for the Airbus jet any time soon.
Boeing was also asked for updates about its 777x, which it said was still due to enter service next year.
Attendees were reminded about the number of problems facing the company as Stan Deal, the President and CEO of Boeing Global Services, said Monday that Boeing was taking the lessons learned from the 737 Max crisis and applying them to the 777x.
Boeing gave attendees a look into its future as it announced new agreements
Boeing’s major victories came in the areas which the company asserts will be integral to its future.
It announced multiple orders for cargo planes, where it said it expects to see a surge in demand in years to come.
Qatar Airways, one of the world’s largest cargo carriers, placed orders with Boeing for five 777 freighters, worth around $1.8 billion.
Its head of commercial sales and marketing said that the company has so much trust in Boeing that it wants to be the first to order a new type of cargo jet from Boeing if it decides to build them.
It also sold more of its bestselling passenger planes, including the 787-9, and announced new agreements for its services section, which provides parts and maintenance, another market where Boeing predicts strong growth.
And it stole a small march on Airbus by announcing a deal with British Airways to supply parts for their fleet of Airbus jets, an extremely unusual arrangement which points again to an expanded future in services.
ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images
Both Airbus and Boeing also showed off conceptual designs and military products, and they both also made a point of repeatedly saying that the future of their companies would be more environmentally sustainable.
Boeing forecasted an $8.7 trillion market for aerospace and defense over the next decade, including $3.1 trillion projected demand for commercial airplanes — tempering concerns of a slowdown in the industry.
It spent most of this year’s air show looking for a future beyond its current crisis, announcing sales of its beleaguered jet and making gains in the areas its expanding on into the future.
The response from airlines shows that many are willing to stick with Boeing until they get there.
- The head of a major pilots’ union will criticize Boeing’s training in front of Congress, calling it the company’s ‘final fatal mistake’ with the 737 Max
- British Airways parent company IAG is buying 200 Boeing 737 Max jets — the first big public order since 2 of the aircraft crashed
- Airbus leapt ahead of Boeing in an untapped market by launching a smaller plane for long-haul flights