The battle between Airbus and Boeing is especially intense in the single-aisle market, for which more than new 20,000 aircraft are required over the next 20 years.
In the 100-210 seat market, examining the Big Two OEMs only, Airbus currently has roughly a 60% market share of the backlog for the A320ceo/neo. Boeing’s 737NG and 737 MAX has the rest. (China’s COMAC C919, Russia’s Irkut MS-21 and Bombardier’s CSeries, for purposes of this post, are excluded.)
Airbus scored a coup when it announced the long-expected order for more than 200 ceos and neos from LionAir, up to now an exclusive Boeing customer. This follows inroads into former exclusive Boeing customers, notably Norwegian Air Shuttle and American Airlines, each for large numbers. Boeing, to be sure, sold the 737 MAX to each of these carriers, but losing exclusivity is a blow to Boeing prestige.
Boeing scored with a large order for 737NGs from Ryanair, an exclusive Boeing customer. The quantity–174–is impressive but the cantankerous CEO of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, wasn’t expected to do anything else. Although he publicly flirted with COMAC, nobody (including Boeing) took his tease seriously. Airbus won’t deal with him, having been played for a stalking horse in the past. That left Boeing. While all that truly counts is the revenue and backlog, Boeing would dearly like to pick off an Airbus customer (see below).
But O’Leary by-passed the 737 MAX. Vocal in his disdain for the MAX as not efficient enough, O’Leary prefers cheap prices to premium ones that accompany the MAX. That MAX continues to trail NEO by substantial numbers rankles. Boeing officials push the story that the MAX is more efficient and costs less than the NEO, which Airbus charges to be outright lies (see Pinocchio), but the numbers that matter most are the sales figures, and for this Airbus is the clear winner.
Boeing’s argues that its 737 is 8% more efficient on a per seat basis than the A320, and it doesn’t matter whether it is the NG vs the ceo or the MAX vs the NEO. The key difference, of course, is that the 737-800/8 nominally carriers 12 more passengers in two classes than the Airbus. Airbus argues that the delta is closer–about seven seats–but we think Boeing has the stronger point on this metric.
Airbus and Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney and CFM, engage in a war of words over the fan diameter of the NEO vs the MAX. Airbus and PW say the larger fan on the PW Geared Turbo Fan is more efficient than the somewhat smaller CFM on the NEO and the sharply smaller fan on the MAX. Boeing and CFM say the CFM LEAP-1B is optimized for the MAX and will produce equal, improved fuel consumption to the GTF. (Noticeably absent from the debate is CFM’s comparison of the NEO LEAP to the NEO GTF or the MAX LEAP. Airbus says the GTF is about 1.5% more fuel efficient than the NEO LEAP.)
For all the manufacturer rhetoric, customers tell us the A320ceo and 737-800 are within two percent of each other on operating costs, in favor of the -800; the 737-900ER is better than the A321ceo and the A319ceo is better than the 737-700. For the re-engined models, nobody pays attention to the A319neo or 737-7; the RE MAX and NEO maintain the status quo; and the A321neo is better than the 9 MAX.
Boeing hopes to flip easyJet, once a Boeing customer but in recent years exclusively Airbus. easyJet says if Boeing is sporty enough on pricing, it can win the current competition. We hear Boeing may well be sporty enough. Whether Airbus will be more sporty remains to be seen.