Boeing, Airbus neck and neck for annual crown

Boeing is big-plane leader while Airbus tops in smaller jets

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Boeing and Airbus split 2013 bragging rights evenly in their constant rivalry over jet sales and deliveries.

According to data released Monday, Airbus delivered 626 jets in the year, 22 fewer than Boeing.

Those Airbus deliveries pulled in an estimated $38 billion in revenue -- nearly $13 billion less than Boeing, which delivered many more of the larger, expensive airplanes.

But on the orders side, Airbus topped Boeing for the year, winning back the sales crown it lost a year earlier.

Airbus booked a record 1,503 net orders vs. 1,355 net orders for Boeing.

The 2013 data released by Airbus, a week after Boeing gave its figures, show that overall the two jet manufacturers remain nearly in equilibrium now.

A closer look shows Airbus has solidified its sales advantage in smaller narrowbody jets, while Boeing has established a lead in bigger widebody jets, said Scott Hamilton, Issaquah-based aviation analyst at leeham.net.

"On the narrowbody side, the market has spoken. It likes the A320neo" over the 737 MAX, Hamilton said. "Airbus will continue to be the dominant player in the single-aisle market going forward until Boeing comes up with a clean-sheet design" for an all-new airplane in this category.

The A320neo outsold the 737 MAX by 876 to 699 last year and has accumulated an order backlog lead of almost 850 airplanes.

In the widebody segment, Boeing delivered 208 jets last year to Airbus's 133, giving it a big lead in the dollar value of its production.

Airbus has its new A350 jet in flight test and due for first delivery in October. If all goes well, it may even the competition for large twinjets against Boeing's 787 and the 777.

But even then, said Hamilton, Airbus still won't have a contender in the lower-to-midsize jet segment, up to 250 seats.

"With the 787-8, Boeing still has the only new-technology airplane in that category," he said.

Some one-time factors affected the outcome of the sales and delivery races last year.

A portion of the Boeing advantage in deliveries wasn't from building planes faster, but from building some slower.

According to data by 787 blogger Uresh Sheth, 10 of the 787s delivered in 2013 came not directly from the assembly lines but from the backlog of Dreamliners undergoing extensive rework in a modification center at Paine Field.

That logjam, which has clogged Paine Field for several years, is now reduced to some 17 jets that have been rolled out but are yet to be delivered.

Emirates centers rivalry

As for the 2013 sales contest, that was closer than it looks.

A single airline swayed it for Airbus, though it's a customer that soon plans to sign on the dotted line for Boeing, too.

In the scramble to book deals before the end of the year, giant Middle East carrier Emirates sealed a firm order for 50 superjumbo A380 jets.

But the airline didn't finalize the big order for 150 of Boeing's upcoming 777Xs that it announced at the Dubai Air Show in November.

Boeing needn't worry, though. Emirates Chief Executive Tim Clark said in an email that the delay of the 777X deal "was not for want of trying!"

He said Emirates officials "are now working with Boeing to finish asap."

That order should give Boeing a start on Airbus in the 2014 sales race.

Looking ahead, Boeing's two jet-assembly plants here have upward production trajectories -- but on different schedules, one near-term and one further out.

Boeing's recent contract deal with the Machinists union secured the long-term future of Everett, ensuring the 777X will be built there.

However, before the 777X comes into production, there could be a slackening of work in Everett.

The 747 jet sold poorly in 2013, and workers on that line fear it may close within a few years.

And the current 777 model has only three years of production in backlog.

Unless Boeing gets a lot more orders for that soon-to-be-superseded jet, analysts believe it may have to cut back from its current record production rate of 100 jets per year, picking up again once the 777X kicks in.