Airbus vs. Boeing: Rock-Em Sock-Em Aerospace Giants
Matthew Greenwood posted on April 19, 2019 |

Airbus and Boeing dominate the booming aerospace industry and their rivalry is one of the most competitive in the business world.

Boeing is the venerable industry veteran, tracing its origins back to William E. Boeing’ Aero Products Company founded in 1916. Airbus is the relative newcomer, dating back to a 1967 aviation cooperation agreement between France, West Germany and the United Kingdom—formed to counter the dominance of American aviation companies like Boeing.

Since then, they’ve been in a wrestling match with each other.

In 2018 both companies saw record-breaking success. Boeing surpassed $100 billion in revenue for the first time in its history, while Airbus earned about $72 billion.

Boeing delivered 806 planes in 2018, and has a backlog order of almost 5,900 planes—worth $490 billion. Airbus kept pace with 800 deliveries last year, and has a record 7,600 backlog.

Airbus and Boeing dominate the aerospace industry.

Commercial Aviation

The main arena where these companies duke it out is in commercial aviation—and it’s where the competition is the fiercest.

Each company has a plane in direct competition with each other: the Airbus A320 faces off against Boeing’s 737, the European company’s A350 XWB goes toe-to-toe with the 777X, and so on.

Airbus A320neo
Airbus A320neo


Boeing 737 Next Generation
Boeing 737 Next Generation

Their rivalry is heating up in the business jet segment as well. Airbus bought Bombardier’s C-series commercial jets line in 2018. In a further show of strength it’s opened a factory in Boeing’s home turf, in the U.S., to manufacture the jets. Boeing responded to the merger by buying the commercial aircraft arm of Embraer—Bombardier’s biggest rival.

But commercial aviation is also where the companies have seen their biggest setbacks. Boeing’s problems with the 737 Max have seen the planes grounded worldwide, while Airbus is abandoning its A380 superjumbo due to a lack of buyers.

Boeing will announce this year whether it will start developing its “New Midsized Airplane” (NMA), nicknamed the 797. Airbus, under new CEO Guillaume Faury, is conducting an extensive review of its operations in an attempt to find efficiencies and modernize.

Both companies are increasing their presence in the growing urban air mobility market, developing autonomous flyers. They also compete in the helicopter market.

Defense

Not only are they the world’s biggest commercial plane makers, they’re also some of the biggest defense companies in the business.

Boeing has the clear advantage in this arena, as its roster is an all-star team of weapons platforms: the F-18 Super Hornet, B-52 bomber, Apache military chopper—and Air Force One.

Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet
Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet

Boeing recently won contracts for 78 new F-18s and to upgrade the U.S. anti-ballistic missile system.

Airbus holds its own in this sector, though, as Europe’s biggest defense contractor and one of the top ten worldwide. The company offers the A440M transport plane, the A330 MRTT tanker-transport aircraft, the H225M helicopter and the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet. Airbus is also active in cybersecurity and secure communications.

Airbus’ Eurofighter Typhoon
Airbus’ Eurofighter Typhoon

Space

The final frontier is another arena of competition for these aerospace giants.

Boeing has been a NASA mainstay, having worked on the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury capsules. It’s leveraging that experience with its new CST-100 Starliner capsule, which after some delays should be ready for crewed space flights as early as this year.

Boeing Starliner
Boeing Starliner

Airbus, of course, is countering with its own work on crewed spaceflights. The company manufactures the European Space Module, which will power Lockheed Martin’s Orion crew capsule.

Orion spacecraft
Orion spacecraft

Boeing is also a partner in the United Launch Alliance joint venture with Lockheed Martin, which makes rockets for NASA’s Space Launch System. Airbus has partnered with fellow European aerospace company Safran on the Ariane rockets used by the European Space Agency.

The companies also compete in the satellite sector. Airbus is producing up to 900 smallsats for the OneWeb communications constellation, while last year Boeing bought Millennium Space Systems, a smallsat manufacturer, to increase its presence in the smallsat market.

Outlook for 2019

Both companies see 2019 as a pivotal year. Boeing will look to eclipse its record-setting $100 billion year in 2018 while trying to undo the damage caused by its 737 Max malfunctions. Airbus will try to shake off corruption investigations, stabilize its leadership and conduct its operational review.

Conclusion

Even though both companies have had recent troubles, their rivalry shows no sign of cooling off. Right now Boeing has the advantage as the alpha dog—it’s bigger, has more revenue, and is winning contracts worth billions. Even though the grounding of the 737 Max is a crisis for the company, it likely won’t threaten its aerospace crown.

But that doesn’t mean its reign is guaranteed. It’s amazing what Airbus has done in just a few decades to catch the American company. Airbus has risen quickly to become the chief rival of the biggest planemaker in the world—and is only half of Boeing’s age. At this pace, it’s entirely possible the European aerospace company could knock Boeing off the top spot.

Airbus congratulates Boeing on its 100th anniversary while acknowledging their rivalry.

The next time you take a flight, you’ll probably be boarding a plane made by one of these two giants. And while analysts are concerned over the fact that the industry is dominated so much by just two firms, all signs point to a protracted and enthusiastic rivalry between these two fierce competitors.

Read more about developments in the aerospace industry at Aerospace Trends to Watch in 2019.


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