Two weeks after the Farnborough International Airshow wrapped up, it's time to declare a winner:

And it's Airbus (NASDAQOTH:EADSY) by a mile.

If Airbus is doing so well, why are we showing you a picture of a Boeing 777? Read on to find out. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Airbus boasted that it recorded 130 firm orders for its planes at the U.K. air show, at list prices topping $38 billion -- results that the European plane maker termed its "best-ever" for Farnborough. Perhaps even more important for Airbus, from a PR perspective -- it's finally overtaken Boeing (NYSE:BA) in the race to collect the most plane orders this year.

As reported in Airbus' latest update on 2014 orders and deliveries through July, the company has taken in 980 "gross" orders for new jets. To date, the order book looks like this:

  • 914 "gross" orders for A319, A320, and A321 narrow-body jets (more than twice last month's tally)
  • 34 orders for larger A330 family aircraft (unchanged from last month)
  • 20 orders for super-jumbo A380 jets (likewise)
  • 12 more for the A350 wide body (you guessed it -- unchanged)

That tops Boeing's recently announced 877 gross orders by 12%. Granted, all of the new orders Airbus took in over the past month were for relatively lower-priced narrow-body jets. But if you count "memoranda of understanding" in which customers at Farnborough committed to purchase a further 121 A330 jetliners, then these unfinished orders have the potential to double Airbus' order book lead over its rival.

Trouble in paradise
That's the good news for Airbus. Now here's the bad: As fast as the airplane maker is racking up new orders for its planes, it's losing existing orders nearly as quickly. Over just the past month, Airbus admitted to losing 50 more plane orders to cancellations. Year to date, cancellations have totaled 275 -- or nearly one order lost for every 3.5 planes ordered. At present, the plane maker's "net" orders after cancellations amount to just 705 jetliners total.

Here's where the race for the crown of "most successful airplane builder of 2014" gets turned on its head. First, a quick look at Boeing's new order numbers as of Thursday's update:

  • 604 gross orders for 737 narrow-body aircraft
  • 245 orders for the larger 777 wide body
  • 27 "Dreamliner" 787s ordered
  • one 747 ordered

Crucially, Boeing hasn't had any orders canceled in the past three months. With only 54 cancellations to date in 2014, Boeing's net order gain for the year now stands at 783 planes -- 11% better than Airbus.

To round out Boeing's win, at last report the U.S. company had dropped off 400 brand-new airplanes on customer tarmacs year to date. That's 48 planes more than Airbus has delivered.

What it means to investors
For Airbus investors, this is a case of one step forward, two steps back. Europe's "continental champion" for planebuilding is failing to keep pace with its archrival in delivering airplanes. And the orders it depends upon to make up the gap in future years -- the one area where Airbus is winning -- are being drained by the steady drip of orders once placed, but now canceled.

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Airbus's A350 is starting to look like an invisible airplane. 2014 orders for the A350 now stand at... negative 70. Illustration: Wikimedia Commons.


Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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