After trailing Boeing (NYSE:BA) all year in terms of order activity, Airbus (NASDAQOTH:EADSY) had a strong December, bringing in nearly as many orders as it did in the first 11 months of 2018 combined.
However, Boeing also posted solid sales numbers last month, allowing it to take the sales crown for 2018 in decisive fashion. That victory broke a five-year winning streak for Airbus.
Airbus had another great December
As of the end of November, Airbus had captured 380 net orders in 2018, leaving it well behind Boeing, which had secured 690 net firm orders by that point. By the time December was done, Airbus had nearly doubled its 2018 order total, pulling in an additional 367 net firm orders. That performance, however, still didn't come close to matching Airbus' December 2017 showing. In that month, the company booked 776 net firm orders to leapfrog Boeing and end that year with 1,109 net orders.
Airbus thus ended 2018 with 747 net firm orders for the year, just shy of its annual production of 800 jets. That marks the first time in nearly a decade the company's orders fell short of its deliveries.
Last month, Airbus completed orders with three U.S. airlines for a total of 135 A220-300s. The European aircraft manufacturer also reported several big orders for its best-selling A320neo family of aircraft. In addition to finalizing a 100-plane deal with aircraft leasing company Avolon, Airbus also booked an order for 80 A320neos from an undisclosed customer and an order for 50 A320neos and 17 A321neos from a different undisclosed customer.
Airbus also reported a handful of smaller aircraft sales for December, offset by 25 order cancellations.
But it's Boeing for the win
Boeing didn't score as many orders as Airbus in December, but it entered the month with a massive lead in the 2018 order race. The American aerospace giant booked 203 net orders last month, bringing its full-year total to 893, enough to beat Airbus by nearly 20%. It also marked the eighth time in nine years that orders exceeded deliveries for Boeing. The exception was 2016, when Boeing experienced a modest order slump.
Boeing's December order activity was driven primarily by a single order for 125 737 MAXs from an unidentified customer. The company also booked a variety of smaller orders during the month, including, somewhat surprisingly, 18 additional orders for current-generation 777s, which had been selling slowly for the past few years.
Widebody orders remain the problem -- especially for Airbus
While Boeing posted a strong order total for 2018, the 737 MAX accounted for the vast majority of its orders. Boeing's four widebody aircraft families -- the 747, 767, 777, and 787 -- combined for only 218 orders last year, slightly fewer than the 226 widebodies Boeing delivered during 2018.
The shortfall was driven by the 787 Dreamliner. While that popular model accounted for half of Boeing's widebody orders (109), Boeing built 145 Dreamliners last year. Furthermore, it plans to boost 787 output in 2019. To maintain a higher production rate, Boeing will need to start winning substantially more orders for the Dreamliner. Furthermore, the only reason orders outpaced production for the other three aircraft families is that Boeing has reduced output of those models in recent years.
However, Airbus is in even worse shape on this score. During all of 2018, it captured just 27 net orders for the A330 family, 40 net orders for the A350 family, and four net A380 orders. The A220 and A320 narrowbody families accounted for more than 90% of Airbus' net orders last year.
Of Airbus' three widebody aircraft families, only the A350 has a healthy order backlog. The A380 is already on life support, with no meaningful orders remaining from any customers other than Emirates. The A330neo could join it without an improvement in demand in the near future. For 2019, Airbus must prioritize driving sales of its widebody models to avoid the need for further production cuts.
Check out the latest Boeing earnings call transcript.