Airbus retains crown over Boeing as world’s biggest jet maker

Airbus has retained its crown as the world’s biggest jet maker for the fourth year in a row ahead of US rival Boeing even as supply chain snags following the pandemic meant it delivered fewer planes than planned in 2022.

The European group said it delivered 661 planes last year, an increase of 8 per cent over the previous 12 months, but fewer than an initial target of 720 aircraft. Deliveries are an important source of cash for Airbus and Boeing as airlines typically pay the biggest chunk of the purchase price at the time.

Guillaume Faury, Airbus chief executive, acknowledged the final tally was “obviously less than we were targeting”, blaming the shortfall on the “complexity of the operating environment”.

Like other manufacturers, including rival Boeing, Airbus has struggled with shortages of raw materials and labour, as well as delays in the deliveries of engines. The war in Ukraine and high energy costs have only added to the strains. The supply chain, Faury warned, remained “fragile” going into 2023.

Boeing also on Tuesday said it delivered 480 planes in 2022, compared with 340 deliveries in the previous year.

Deliveries in the fourth quarter to US carriers United, Southwest and American airlines boosted the group’s final tally. Deliveries rose from 35 in October to nearly double last month — a “blowout December”, said analyst Peter Arment of Robert W Baird.

The US manufacturer, which has been trying to claw back market share it lost since two crashes involving its Max 737 aircraft, notched up 935 gross orders and 774 net orders, after accounting for cancellations and conversions.

United placed an order in December for 100 787s, which it said was the largest ever lodged by a US carrier, as well as ordering 100 Max jets.

Boeing’s stock stood at $206.02 by early afternoon in the New York, a 2 per cent fall on the day but a roughly 40 per cent increase since November 2, when executives laid out a turnround plan to boost production, increase free cash flow and pay down debt.

Chief executive David Calhoun said the company would not undertake the expensive endeavour of building a new “clean sheet” aeroplane until the middle of the next decade.

Separately, Airbus registered 1,078 gross new orders and 820 net. The company’s backlog rose to 7,239 aircraft at the end of the year, while Boeing’s backlog hit 4,578.

The European company cut its delivery target twice last year because of persistent raw material and labour shortages. It last month abandoned its target to deliver “around 700” planes by the end of the year.

It stressed at the time that it did not expect the final result to be materially short of this and stuck to its existing profit and free cash flow guidance. The company in July had lowered the target from an initial “around 720” planes.

China’s decision to abandon its restrictive pandemic policies and reopen its borders has prompted hopes of a rebound in international travel. Faury, however, on Tuesday cautioned that while there was good news in the medium to long term, he expected “additional complexities” in the short term.

The coming year, he added, would be another “year of a very complex environment from a supply chain perspective”.

Despite the challenges, Faury on Tuesday stressed the company would continue its “ramp-up trajectory to deliver on our backlog”. Airbus is targeting a monthly single-aisle production rate of 64 jets by 2024, increasing to 75 a month by the middle of the decade.

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