How Airbus-Boeing rivalry is changing air travel

Today, both companies are using every advantage they can find, driving innovation and efficiency, writes, WOLE SHADARE


Boeing and Airbus each control around half of the global aircraft market, and analysts anticipate the booming travel industry needing as many as 39,000 new planes over the next 20 years. With a value of over $6 trillion over two decades, even small differences in market share add up to big business, so it is no wonder competition is so fierce.

The global commercial aircraft market is dominated by two manufacturers, European conglomerate Airbus and Seattle-based aerospace giant Boeing.

Their drive to secure market share is affecting everything from which aircraft you are on, to what routes you can choose from and how many passengers you share the cabin with.

The rivalry between the two is shaping not just their own future but the air travel industry itself, driving innovative aircraft design, new buying patterns among airlines, and expanded route maps that offer travelers more choice, flexibility, and convenience.

The competition between Airbus and Boeing has been characterized as a duopoly in the large jet airliner market since the 1990s.

In the 10 years from 2007 to 2016, Airbus received orders for 9,985 aircraft and delivered 5,644, while Boeing received orders for 8,978 aircraft and delivered 5,718. During their period of intense competition, both companies regularly accused each other of receiving unfair state aid from their respective governments.

In 2019, Airbus displaced Boeing as the largest aerospace company by the revenue due to the Boeing 737 MAX groundings, pulling in revenues of $78.9 billion and $76 billion, respectively.

Boeing recorded $2 billion in operating losses, down from $12 billion in profits the previous year, while Airbus’ profits dropped from $6 billion to $1.5 billion.

Wide product range

Airbus and Boeing have wide product ranges, including single-aisle and wide-body aircraft, covering a variety of combinations of capacity and range.

Airbus sold well the A320 family aircraft to low-cost startups and offering a choice of engines could make them more attractive to airlines and lessors than the single-sourced Boeing 737 family but CFM engines are extremely reliable. While the 737NG series outsold the A320 neo family since its introduction in 1988, in 2001, and in 2007 the last became the best-selling jet airliner in 2002 and in 2005–2006.

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n January 2016, the 737NG series was still lagging around 900 orders with 7,033 against 7,940 of the A320ceo family. For the new re-engined variants, the B737 Max series had 3,072 orders since its introduction in August 2011 and the A320neo family got 3,355 in the same time frame or in a total of 4,471 since its launch in December 2010.

The six-month head-start of the A320neo allowed Airbus to rack up 1,000 orders. Through August 2016, Airbus had a 59.4% market share of the re-engined single-aisle market, while Boeing had 40.6%; Boeing had doubts on over-ordered A320neos by new operators and expected to narrow the gap with potential orders from established airlines.

 In July 2017, however, Airbus still sold 1,350 more A320neos than Boeing had sold 737 MAXs. In August 2018, the A321 had outsold the 737-900 three to one, as the A321neo was again dominating the 737-9 MAX, to be joined by the 737-10 MAX.

Boeing factory

In October 2019, ultimately, the A320 family surpassed the Boeing 737 to become the highest-selling airliner with a total order of 15,193 and respectively 175,136 aircraft at the end of the month.

By July 2021, Airbus (including the A220) had a 65% share of the single-aisle backlog compared to Boeing’s 35% share.


In terms of deliveries, as of October 2019, Boeing had shipped 10,563 aircraft of the 737 series since the first delivery to Lufthansa in late 1967, with a further 4,573 on firm order. Airbus had shipped 9,086 A320 family aircraft since the first delivery to Air France in early 1988, with another 6,107 on firm order and for comparison, Boeing delivered 9,037 aircraft within the same time frame.

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To date, with its 21 years ahead of introduction, the 737 series aircraft had been delivered nearly 1,500 more than the A320 family and within the same time frame, the last had 49, slightly more deliveries than its competitor. To increase delivery, Boeing ramped up 737 monthly productions from 47 in 2017 to 57 in 2019, whilst Airbus from 46 to 60, and both consider accelerating further despite supplier strain.

 By September 2018, there were 7,251 A320ceo family aircraft in service versus 6,757 737NGs, while at the year’s end, there was overall 7,506 A320 family versus 7,310 Boeing 737.

Jumbo twin aisles: A380 vs B747

During the 1990s both companies researched the feasibility of a passenger aircraft larger than the B747, which was then the largest airliner in operation. Airbus subsequently launched a full-length double-deck aircraft the A380 a decade later while Boeing decided the project would not be commercially viable and developed the third generation 747, B787-8 instead.  The Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747-8 are therefore in direct competition on long-haul routes.

On December 6, the last of 1,574 Boeing 747s produced left the company’s wide-body factory in Everett in advance of its delivery to Atlas Air in early 2023. Production of the 747, the world’s first twin-aisle airplane, began in 1967 and spanned 54 years.

The 747 was a game-changer in the marketplace and has earned itself a prominent position in the annals of aviation history.

Boeing and Airbus delivered 48 and 68 commercial jets in November 2022, compared to 34 and 58 deliveries, respectively, in the same month last year. Year to date, Boeing and Airbus have delivered 411 and 565 aircraft, compared to 302 and 518, respectively, in the first 11 months of 2021. So far this year, Boeing and Airbus are 109 and 47 deliveries ahead of last year’s totals, respectively.

Following a more than challenging 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was a year of recovery for the two largest commercial plane makers. With the last month of the year remaining, 2022 has, as expected, been another year of recovery for the commercial aircraft manufacturing industry, despite supply chain challenges, inflation, macroeconomic weakness, labor shortages, and events currently unfolding in Ukraine. Boeing and Airbus still have a long way to go before deliveries are back to pre-pandemic levels, though.

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In 2021, Airbus delivered 611 aircraft and won the deliveries crown for the third year in a row. Deliveries were up from 566 in 2020 but remain well below the company’s all-time record high of 863 shipments in 2019.

Airbus is expected to retain the delivery lead for the foreseeable future due to the company’s comfortable backlog lead over its American rival. Prior to 2019, Boeing had out-delivered Airbus every year since 2012.

In November 2022, Airbus delivered 68 jets, including six A220s, 53 A320s (all NEO), four A330s, and five A350s. During 2021, Airbus steadily increased A320 production from 40 per month to 43 in Q3 2021 before finishing the year at a rate of 45 per month.

Production will continue to be increased until reaching a monthly rate of 65 by early 2024 (recently pushed back from mid-2023 due to supply chain challenges). Also, Airbus is working with its supply chain to increase the A320 production rate to 75 aircraft per month in 2025.

The newest A320 NEO family addition, the A321XLR, successfully accomplished its first flight in June. Entry into service, initially planned for the end of 2023, is now expected to take place in early 2024.

Last line

This productive rivalry has a long way to go yet. Both Boeing and Airbus are plowing billions into research and development to try and gain an edge, pioneering new forms of air transportation and propulsion in the process. 

Wole Shadare