At the end of each year, Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Airbus (NASDAQOTH:EADSY) typically engage in a mad rush to finalize as many aircraft orders as possible. In 2017, Airbus in particular had a December to remember, bringing in 776 firm orders -- more than twice as many as it had received in the first 11 months of the year combined. Boeing's order total for December 2017 wasn't too shabby, either.
Order activity has been running slightly ahead of last year's level for both aircraft manufacturers so far in 2018. Boeing and Airbus both reported respectable order numbers for November, which bodes well for their chances as they gear up for another sprint to the finish line.
Another good month
As of the end of October, Boeing had captured 642 net firm orders in 2018, compared to 340 for Airbus. Last month, the two aerospace giants roughly kept pace with each other.
Boeing reported 48 net firm orders for the month of November, bringing its year-to-date total to 690. (That's slightly more than the roughly 650 net firm orders that it had at the same point in 2017.) This consisted of 51 orders offset by three cancellations.
The vast majority of Boeing's November order activity came from a single deal, as South Korea's Jeju Air ordered 40 737 MAX 8s. Importantly, Boeing also captured six orders for current-generation 777s: three 777-300ERs for an aircraft leasing company and three 777 freighters for Turkish Airlines. This will help it keep output stable (at worst) as production is shifted toward the next-generation 777X.
Meanwhile, Airbus captured 43 firm orders in November, offset by three cancellations. That gave it 380 net firm orders for the year. Three airlines -- EasyJet, Vistara, and SaudiGulf Airlines -- combined to order 40 A320neos last month. Airbus also received an order for three military tankers based on the A330.
Thus, while November wasn't a spectacular month for either aircraft manufacturer, Boeing and Airbus both reported respectable order totals.
Can Boeing and Airbus bring home the goods in December?
It's extremely unlikely that Airbus will be able to match its incredible December 2017 order haul this time around. The company's performance a year ago was driven primarily by an historic order for 430 aircraft from Indigo Partners, a U.S. investment firm that owns stakes in several budget carriers around the world.
That said, Airbus has already completed one big deal this month. On Dec. 7, the company announced that aircraft leasing company Avolon had placed a firm order for 75 A320neos and 25 A321neos, adding to its existing order backlog of 158 Airbus planes. This followed through on a commitment (attributed to an unidentified customer) reached at the Farnborough Airshow earlier this year.
Indeed, many of the orders that will be booked in December are likely to result from airlines and aircraft leasing companies finalizing commitments made earlier in the year (or in 2017).
Even after firming up the Avolon deal, Airbus still has hundreds of outstanding commitments, including agreements for 60 A220s each from JetBlue Airways and a new start-up airline being launched by JetBlue's founder. Boeing has even more aircraft commitments waiting to be finalized, thanks to a strong performance at the Farnborough Airshow back in July. As a result, it has a good shot at surpassing its 2017 order total this year, which would require adding more than 222 net firm orders to its backlog in December.
Boeing is in the advantageous position of having already secured a respectable order haul this year. Anything it can add in December would just be gravy. By contrast, Airbus still has some work left to get its 2018 order total up to a reasonably good level.