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For years, the 737 has been Boeing's most popular plane. But lately, customers seem to prefer Airbus' A320. Image source: Airbus.

Every Thursday,Boeing (NYSE: BA) updates investors on the status of its plane orders. This week, Boeing shareholders were treated to some good news: After lagging archrival Airbus (NASDAQOTH: EADSY) badly all year long, Boeing began to turn the tide in June.

Boeing beats Airbus
Making use of Boeing's handy-dandy (and recently upgraded) tool for calculating plane orders, we crunched the numbers on Boeing's orders received in June, coming up with a total of 161 planes ordered by customers ranging from AerCap to Qatar Airways to the always intriguing "Unidentified Customer(s)." These included orders for 131 single-aisle 737 commercial airliners, 24 Boeing 777s, five 787 Dreamliners," and a single 747 jumbo jet.

That makes for a total of 161 plane orders booked in June, versus 135 orders reported by Airbus.

Year to date, these new plane orders bring Boeing's tally to 221 single-aisle 737s ordered, along with fifty 787s, forty-nine 777s, a quartet of 747s, and a single Boeing 767 (destined for FedEx).

That's 325 gross orders, which, after subtracting a total of 44 order cancellations year to date, leaves Boeing with a net of 281 orders received through the first half of 2015.

Airbus beats Boeing
Yet it's worth pointing out that while Boeing had an exceptionally good sales month in June, its slow start early in the year means the Seattle planemaker still lags Airbus in net (and also gross) orders taken in year to date. According to Airbus' just-released orders update, Airbus has booked orders for 324 single-aisle A320-class jetliners, 57 larger A330s, and one single A350.

That makes 382 planes total -- 17.5% more gross orders than Boeing got. Where Airbus really shines in the first half of 2015, however, is the company's remarkable ability to hold on to the orders it's already booked. To date, Airbus has suffered only 34 order cancellations (just 9% of gross orders). As a result, its net new orders for the year now stand at 348 planes -- nearly 24% higher than Boeing's tally.

A distinction that may make a difference
So much for the horse race. Now here's something that may be of even more interest to investors in Boeing and Airbus.

While Airbus is outselling Boeing generally, and holding on to its orders better as well, the big difference between how Boeing and Airbus are faring appears to lie in the specific types of plane orders that are getting canceled. Notably, Boeing has lost only 18 orders for single-aisle 737s so far this year -- about 8% of orders placed. That's roughly comparable to the 10% of A320-family airplane orders canceled at Airbus.

In contrast, Airbus has seen precisely zero cancellations of its widebody A330 and A350 airplanes so far this year, whereas Boeing has lost more than half its widebody 787 orders to cancellation (26 cancellations out of 50 gross orders placed).

Given that Boeing has yet to turn a profit on its 787 program, and needs to sell at least 1,300 Dreamliners in order to grow production volumes and begin to break even, those cancellations are worrisome. For Boeing so far this year, the 787 program has been a case of two steps forward, one step back.

Perhaps, instead of trying to beat Airbus on landing new plane orders, and offering steep discounts to that end, Boeing could more profitably focus on just holding on to the orders it's already got?

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The Boeing 787 is a pretty plane. Pity it's still pretty unprofitable. Image source: Boeing.

Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 317 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

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