The most important air show of the year is always held in Europe. Airbus (NASDAQOTH:EADSY) -- operating on its home turf -- usually makes a point of outpacing its American rival Boeing (NYSE:BA) in the order race. Last year, Boeing's order haul at the Farnborough Airshow was so dismal that the company felt the need to fudge the numbers in its end-of-show press release to save face.
However, Boeing didn't have any trouble selling airplanes at this week's 2017 Paris Air Show. The launch of the new 737 MAX 10 and solid demand for the Dreamliner widebody allowed Boeing to score a clear victory over Airbus in terms of deal activity.
Firm order totals were relatively similar
Looking just at new firm orders, Boeing and Airbus were relatively evenly matched. Airbus announced firm orders for 144 aircraft at the Paris Air Show: 132 A320-family narrowbodies and 12 widebodies. The vast majority of those orders came from General Electric's GECAS aircraft leasing arm, which ordered an additional 100 A320neos.
Meanwhile, Boeing announced new firm orders for 134 aircraft: 97 737s and 37 widebodies. Separately, Qatar Airways announced that it had firmed up an order for 20 737 MAX 8s. (It's not clear why Boeing didn't mention this deal in its press release.)
In terms of raw numbers, these firm order totals were pretty similar. However, Boeing's firm orders included a higher proportion of widebody aircraft -- which typically cost more than twice as much as narrowbodies like the 737 or A320 -- so the total value of these deals was considerably higher for Boeing.
Boeing racks up hundreds of commitments for the 737
Most of the deals announced by Boeing in the past week were commitments rather than firm orders. Commitments are not binding contracts, but they are usually (albeit not always) converted into firm orders sooner or later.
In total, Boeing announced commitments for 418 737 MAX aircraft at the Paris Air Show. Much of this activity was driven by the launch of Boeing's new 737 MAX 10 jet -- the largest member of its 737 family -- as well as a last-minute commitment for 125 737 MAX 8s from a "major unidentified airline customer" that was revealed on Thursday morning.
Boeing also announced commitments for 19 widebodies (mainly 787 Dreamliners) from four customers this week. This gave it a total of 437 commitments for the week. By contrast, Airbus logged just 182 commitments during the Paris Air Show, consisting of 174 commitments for A320-family aircraft and eight for the A330neo.
Widebody deals were also a differentiator
Including commitments rather than just firm orders, Boeing won the pure numbers game by a wide margin: 571-326. However, winning lots of orders for narrowbodies isn't very impressive in the current climate, because demand for these aircraft exceeds production capacity.
By contrast, Boeing and Airbus both need more widebody orders to solidify their production plans for the next several years. Here, too, Boeing outperformed Airbus by a wide margin last week.
Boeing announced deals for 56 widebodies at the Paris Air Show. It started strong, signing up two aircraft leasing companies on Monday for a total of 38 Dreamliners. By the end of the week, it had announced firm orders for 33 Dreamliners along with 17 commitments. Boeing also secured a firm order for four 777-300ERs, along with a commitment for two 777 freighters.
In the meantime, Airbus only managed to drum up three relatively small widebody orders last week. Ethiopian Airlines placed a firm order for 10 more A350-900s, Hi Fly ordered two A330-200s, and Zagros Airlines placed a commitment for eight A330neos.
A comeback year for Boeing
As of the end of May, Airbus had logged just 73 new firm orders in 2017, compared to more than 200 for Boeing. Many pundits thought Airbus might even the score at the Paris Air Show. Instead, it looks set to fall further behind -- especially once Boeing starts firming up the hundreds of commitments it announced during the week.
Airbus still has a significantly larger narrowbody backlog than Boeing. But on the widebody side -- where orders are needed more urgently -- Boeing was already well ahead of Airbus before the Paris Air Show. It increased this advantage last week, suggesting that 2017 will be a comeback year for Boeing in the long-running battle with Airbus for orders.