Airbus's A320 wears its biggest selling point on its sleeve. Er, its fuselage. IMAGE SOURCE: Airbus.

For nearly a month now, aerospace investors have been flying blind.

Boeing (NYSE:BA) has reported essentially no new airplane sales in its past four weeks of sales updates. Aside from the bullish report on Sept. 3, only two 787 sales were mentioned in all of September (those two going to "unidentified customer(s)" in the fourth week of the month). And there's been nothing else, either before or since.

Then, all of a sudden, the big news broke: It was not Boeing but Airbus (NASDAQOTH:EADSY) that won all the plane orders in September.

Airbus wins!
So what exactly did Airbus sell, and how did it manage to all but shut Boeing out last month? Let's start with the stats. In September, Airbus says it sold:

  • One A350-900 "extrawidebody airliner" to Groupe Dubreuil. According to S&P Capital IQ, Groupe Dubreuil is a French a holding company that "operates airlines through its subsidiaries."
  • Two A330 jetliners to new Airbus customer and Rwandan flag carrier RwandAir; two more A330s to BOC Aviation; and two more A330s to Standard Chartered Bank -- all four destined for leasing to Eva Air. That makes six A330s ordered last month.
  • 110 A321neo single-aisles sold to Channel Islands-based Wizz Air, which Airbus describes as "the largest low-cost carrier serving Eastern and Central Europe." Combined with four A320neo single-aisles sold to Croatia Airlines, that adds up to 114 orders for single-aisle jets in the A320 "family".


Airbus's "A320 Family" photo, from the biggish A321 to the tiny A318. Image source: Airbus.

Tally these up, and Airbus collected 121 airplane orders in the month, versus only two firm orders for Boeing. And Airbus totally shut Boeing out of the single-aisle narrowbody market for the month.

Not to rub it in, but Airbus practically crowed with delight over the news, declaring, "This once again confirmed Airbus' position as the industry leader, bringing the company's backlog to 6,755 aircraft – another new industry record, which corresponds to 10 years of production at current rates." 

Speaking of which -- the race
As of today, Airbus's gross orders booked in 2015 stand at 875 aircraft, comprising:

  • 776 single-aisle "A320 Family" jets (which include a tiny A318, two A319s, and 221 A321s).
  • 89 widebody A330s, which compete with Boeing's 767, 777, and 787.
  • 10 A350 widebodies.

Airbus also suffered 14 cancellations in the month, bringing total cancellations for the year to 60, and dropping its "net" order tally down to 815. Relative to this performance, Boeing's latest reports  indicate that it has 5,656 planes total in its backlog. Boeing's order book for 2015 now looks like this:

  • 349 single-aisle 737s.
  • 54 widebody 777s.
  • 52 Dreamliner 787s.
  • 48 Boeing 767s.
  • Four 747s.

That's 507 "gross" plane orders for Boeing. Like Airbus, though, Boeing has lost 60 orders to cancellation, so its net order tally rings up at 447 planes -- just 55% of what Airbus has sold so far this year.

What it means to investors
Airbus' margin of victory over Boeing last month was impressive. But what's perhaps most interesting about Airbus' report last month aren't the planes it's been selling -- but the planes it's been seeing canceled.

Seven of those cancellations have been on A350 aircraft -- wiping out 70% of the A350 sales that Airbus was so proud of. (Incidentally, this is not good news for Rolls-Royce, which probably would have built the engines for those planes).

Two A330s were also canceled. But the big news is that 51 of Airbus' 60 cancellations have been for "A320 Family" aircraft. 48 of those cancelled A320s, A319s, and A321s were designated "ceo," for "current engine option" -- engines of the last generation.

Some of those orders may have been canceled outright. But I'd bet good money that many of these cancellations were actually substituted with new orders for more fuel-efficient "neo," or "new engine option" aircraft featuring either LEAP 1-A engines from General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Safran, or PurePower PW1100G-JM engines from Pratt & Whitney. We've seen similar trends at Boeing, after all, with orders for older model 737 NG aircraft converted to more fuel-efficient, new model "MAX" aircraft.

So what does this mean for investors? Despite historically low oil prices, fuel efficiency remains of paramount concern to Airbus' and Boeing's customers. To the extent that General Electric and its rivals build the most fuel-efficient engines on the planet, they'll continue to win large orders from plane-builders -- and the plane-builder that builds the most fuel-efficient planes will win the most sales.

Right now, that seems to mean Airbus.


Wondering why has Airbus been thumping Boeing's 737 in the single-aisle market this year? Now you know. Photo: Boeing.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 249 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

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