It appeared that Airbus had taken the wind out of Boeing's
First, the very fact that the results were a big surprise is telling. Airbus had made it a high priority simply to beat Boeing on volume. The European outfit entered December with just 687 orders, compared with 827 at that point for Boeing. It seems likely that Airbus did a lot of arm-twisting to complete deals in December just so it could steal Boeing's thunder.
Second, the value of Boeing's orders was higher, and thus its orders likely represent more profit than Airbus' do. Larger, more expensive wide-body planes made up just 17% of Airbus' 2005 orders, compared with 44% of Boeing's. Airbus' 380-passenger A340 fared particularly badly against its more fuel-efficient competitor, the 777, which won 154 orders, versus only 15 for the A340. Airbus is currently reviewing the A340's fate, but coming up with a replacement will present a major logistical challenge, now that the company is already developing another plane, the A350, to compete against the 787, even as Airbus struggles with delays in deliveries of the A380 superjumbo.
Finally, if the 2005 orders are an indicator of future success, then Boeing looks like the clear winner. Airbus secured just 20 orders for its brand-new A380, while the Boeing plane that the A380 was supposed to surmount, the 747, garnered 43 orders. And whereas Boeing captured 235 orders for its next-generation 787, orders for the plane that Airbus is working on to compete against the 787, the A350, came in 28 planes short of Airbus' projections.
Boeing has captured customers' interest with its focus on fuel efficiency, as exemplified in the 777 and the 787. The key now will be to keep the 787 moving forward on time and within budget -- no easy tasks, considering the plane's new technology and the decentralized manufacturing process being used to make it. Still, the future of commercial aerospace belongs to Boeing, provided it can follow through on its plans.
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Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.