The Farnborough Airshow returned last week, representing the biggest aviation industry event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Boeing (BA -0.33%) and Airbus (EADSY 0.18%) typically use the biennial gathering to negotiate and announce major aircraft orders.
Airbus had a quiet week, with few order announcements. Meanwhile, Boeing unveiled more than half a dozen deals, including an order for 100 737 MAX 10s from Delta Air Lines.
Thanks to this order momentum, Boeing stock gained 7% last week, beating the market. But while the U.S. aerospace giant got an important win at Farnborough, it still faces immense challenges in the commercial aircraft market, mainly due to its inferior narrow-body jet portfolio relative to Airbus.
No big splashes for Airbus
Airbus announced three orders last week. First, Delta topped up its A220 order book with 12 additional firm orders. Second, EasyJet firmed up orders for 56 A320neo-family jets. Third, LATAM Airlines ordered 17 additional A321neos.
Thus, Airbus announced orders for just 85 jets during the Farnborough Airshow. Additionally, EasyJet had announced its order a month ago and was just waiting for shareholder approval to confirm it. Nevertheless, Airbus executives maintained a confident tone, saying that they were mainly using the air show to talk to suppliers about bottlenecks hindering production rather than focusing wholly on signing up big new orders from airlines and leasing companies.
Boeing goes big
In contrast to Airbus, Boeing's sales team had a busy week. In addition to the big Delta Air Lines order, Boeing formally announced a previously unidentified order by Japan's ANA Holdings for 20 737 MAX jets on Monday.
The following day, Boeing announced three orders. Miami-based investment firm 777 Partners -- which owns stakes in various budget airlines around the world -- placed a firm order for 30 high-density 737 MAX 200s. Aircraft leasing giant AerCap ordered five more 787-9s. Finally, Aviation Capital Group placed orders for 12 additional 737 MAX 8s.
Later in the week, Boeing said that Qatar Airways had firmed up an order for 25 737 MAX 10s, finalizing a memorandum of understanding announced in January. It also signed a memorandum of understanding with Azerbaijan Airlines for four 787-8s and revealed that Cargolux had selected the new 777-8 freighter as the eventual replacement for its 747-400 freighters.
All told, this activity gave Boeing 172 firm orders for the week (including the firmed-up Qatar Airways deal), plus the four-aircraft commitment from Azerbaijan Airlines. That would nearly double the company's year-to-date order total, after it reported 205 net firm orders in the first half of 2022.
Winning the battle but losing the war
Boeing's "victory" at Farnborough was an important step in the right direction. That said, Airbus recorded 259 net firm orders in the first half of the year, besting Boeing's 205. So even after signing up far more orders in the past week, Boeing only has a modest lead on a year-to-date basis.
Moreover, Airbus received commitments for a total of 292 jets from several large Chinese airlines just a few weeks ago. If those are firmed up later this year, Boeing will face an uphill battle to maintain its lead in the 2022 order race.
Most importantly, Airbus has thousands more orders in its backlog than Boeing, with narrow-body jets accounting for the full disparity. Boeing is nowhere close to parity with Airbus, and that fact won't change anytime soon.
Boeing's smallest commercial jet, the 737 MAX 7, can't compete effectively against Airbus' A220 family, which is purpose-built for the 100 to 150 seat market. Meanwhile, neither the 737 MAX 9 nor the 737 MAX 10 can match the range and airfield performance of the A321neo (especially its longer-range variants).
Even with diminished market share and production, Boeing should be able to earn decent profits over the next few years. However, the company will have to devote many years of free cash flow to fixing its weak balance sheet. Meanwhile, Airbus has a pristine balance sheet and is poised for meaningful growth as supply chain constraints ease. That makes Airbus stock a far more attractive investment than Boeing shares.