We continue our big picture analyses with a comparison of the in-service fleets at Airbus and Boeing for the years 2000, 2007 and 2014.  This provides an interesting opportunity to see how these two OEMs are doing in the market. As the charts show, there is a distinct difference.

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Airbus

  • Airbus’ fleet is biased towards the smaller seat segments – over 60% of its in-service fleet is in the segments between 111-170 seats.  In absolute terms, the Airbus fleet in these two segments rose from 1,193 to 2,787 and then 4,962.  This is an eye-popping growth rate.  Airbus has been churning out A320s.
  • In the 171-200 seat segment Airbus has seen its fleet (A321) grow from 172 to 421 and finally 1,015.   This segment is an area of strength for Airbus.
  • In the 201-240 seat segment, the A310 was outclassed by the 767 and more recently the segment will be dominated by the 787.
  • In percentage terms the means the 241-300 seat segment looks like it is getting weaker. In fact, in absolute terms, the fleet grew from 651 to 940 and then 1,350.  The Airbus fleet here transitioned from A300s to A340s and A330s.  This is also the space the A350-900 will occupy.  In 2000 27% of the fleet was made up of A330s, which then grew to 54% and finally 80%.
  • In the larger seat segments Airbus saw its A340-600 flounder, while its A380 started to eat away at Boeing‘s monopoly at the top end.
  • Clearly Airbus behavior towards Bombardier is now clear to see.  The CSeries is a manifest threat to a key market for Airbus.  Embraer can expect the same reaction as its E2 gets closer to EIS.

Boeing

  • Boeing has what looks like being a much more balanced fleet.  About half its in-service fleet is in the same segments as those at Airbus.  Boeing is much stronger in the larger aircraft segments.
  • As with Airbus, Boeing is clearly on the way out of the under 110 seat segment.  It looks like both Airbus and Boeing are also seeing less activity in the 111-140 seat segment.
  • Between 111-170 seats Boeing’s absolute numbers are 2,844 in 2000 to 3,905 in 2007 and 5,526 in 2014.  Although not as rapid a growth as at Airbus, Boeing remains king of the hill in these combined segments.
  • In the 171-200 seat segment, Boeing’s 757 was undisputed leader. But that has tailed off to where there were more A321s in passenger service than 757s in 2014. Boeing’s other offering in this space was the 767-200 which is also fading.  The newer 737-900 has not managed to get back the traction lost by the 757.
  • In the 201-240 seat segment Boeing has had a relatively stable fleet.  This is testimony to the 767-300 being a very successful aircraft with no real segment competition from Airbus.  Boeing’s 787-8 should continue to hold sway here.  Airbus A330 and A350 are a segment higher and essentially bracketed by Boeing offerings.
  • Boeing’s next strengths are in the 300+ seat segments where its 777 and 747 dominate.  The Boeing fleet grew from 1,022 in 2000 to 1,247 and finally 1,500.  Growth is steady, but to get an idea of how Boeing dominates the larger seat segments, bear in mind that Airbus corresponding numbers were zero in 2000, then 106 in 2007 and 280 in 2014.  Of that 280, 54% were A380s.

The Bottom Line

Airbus has seen excellent market acceptance of the A320 and lately of the A321.  Given the demand and resultant backlog, we can understand Airbus desire to increase production.  In addition it is clear how much is riding on the A350 and A330neo – in segments where Airbus needs to shore up its market share.  While the A380 is doing its job of keeping Airbus at the top end, airlines are not clamoring for VLAs.  We continue to think this market will grow, and it will require great patience (and fortitude) at Airbus to balance demands from Emirates and market realities.

Boeing has managed to stay strong in the single aisle market with a nearly 50 year old design.  It is a remarkable achievement that probably will never be matched again.  It seems, though, that the 737 has run its course – at the lower end it will be eclipsed by the CSeries and E2 (as will the A319).  At the top end the A321 is already beating it handily.  The MAX8 prolongs 737 competitiveness but we think the 737 in MAX form will not have as long a run as the NG.  No doubt Boeing has alternative plans in the works.  In the twin aisle segments, we can see why Boeing is so confident – they dominate.  The 777 is the benchmark and has not only seen off the A340, but even the 747.  With the 787 reaching its stride and the 777X program looming, Boeing has reason to feel confident it has the products airlines and lessors will want.

Finally, the rapid production increases in A320s and 737s should be given a wary eye.  Its true that markets are growing, especially in Asia.  But this growth is not linear – there will be gyrations.  Current backlogs are over ordered and it might still be that both OEMs going to 50 aircraft per month is just too much for the market to absorb.  If China’s current economic sniffing turns into a full blown flu, all bets are off.

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