As we tick down the final weeks and days of 2014, aerospace and defense investors want to know: When all's said and done, who will be the top airplane manufacturer of the year?

Last year, as you probably recall, the crown went to Airbus (OTC:EADSY), which eked out a victory over archrival Boeing (NYSE:BA). Airbus booked 1,503 new plane orders (net of cancellations) to Boeing's 1,355. The year before, it was Boeing that came out on top, netting nearly 50% more new plane orders than its rival. This year, the seesaw looks likely to swing back in Boeing's favor.

Strong sales of Boeing's 737 are helping the company to come out on top in 2014. Source: Boeing.

At last report -- as of Thursday to be precise -- Boeing has reported the following new plane orders for 2014:

  • 957 single-aisle 737 aircraft
  • 263 units of its 777 widebody
  • 48 new 787 Dreamliners
  • four 767s
  • a pair of 747 jumbo jets

That's 1,247 gross orders in total. Subtract 106 cancellations recorded year to date, and this leaves Boeing with 1,168 net new orders for the year.

The picture at Airbus isn't nearly so pretty. While the European plane maker has managed to open up a lead in the market for single-aisles, Airbus is having a very hard time keeping pace with Boeing on the sale of larger birds. Year to date, all they've managed to cobble together are:

  • 994 single-aisle A319s, A320s, and A321s
  • 46 orders for larger A330-class aircraft
  • 20 for the widebody A350
  • 20 more for the megajumbo A380

That's 1,080 gross orders, if you're counting. But now you have to count backwards, because so far this year, Airbus has lost 286 of these orders to cancellations, leaving a net of just 794 new planes on order.

Long story short: As the year winds down, Boeing is once again leading Airbus by roughly 50% on new plane orders.

Aerospace investor math
And that's not the least of Airbus's problems. With more of Boeing's plane orders being of the pricier widebody variety, the disparity in revenues for the two rivals will yawn even wider than the raw numbers suggest.

For example, Airbus A350s list for upwards of $250 million apiece, meaning each A350 sale is worth more than two sales of smaller A320-series aircraft to the plane maker. But thanks to cancellations of orders originally booked in previous years, Airbus now shows negative orders for its A350 on its 2014 order book.

Meanwhile, Boeing charges (list prices of) $300 million and up for its competing 777 -- and 777 sales are booming.

Cash on delivery
Speaking of cash -- Boeing's also going to be rolling in more of it than Airbus is. This year, Boeing is beating Airbus on aircraft deliveries as well as on new orders. At last report, Boeing says it's put 590 airplanes in the hands of its customers so far this year.

Airbus's tally? Just 493 planes. And most of those were el-cheapo A320 models.

What it means for investors
With barely a month remaining in the year, 2014 is shaping up to be a great one for Boeing. It's delivering more planes, charging more for them, and collecting more cash than its rival is. And with new orders continuing to outpace Airbus's, the future looks bright for Boeing as well.

Yet despite the disparity in the companies' performance, Boeing stock continues to look cheaper than Airbus stock. Boeing shares currently cost just 19.5 times earnings versus the 23.4 P/E on Airbus shares. And according to S&P Capital IQ data, Boeing even pays its shareholders a 2.2% dividend yield -- 0.7% more than what Airbus pays out!

So, what's the upshot for investors? If you're in the market to buy an airplane, the world's two biggest manufacturers are Boeing and Airbus. But if you're shopping for an airplane stock, there's really only one choice -- and it isn't Airbus.

Boeing's 737 single-aisle airplane is widely understood to be the profits engine of the company -- but Boeing's 777 is no slouch, either. Source: Boeing.