Airbus Not Currently Benefiting From Boeing 737 MAX Troubles

Perhaps just as big as the Pepsi vs Coke rivalry is the battle between Airbus and Boeing. You might think that Boeing’s 737 MAX crisis has benefitted Airbus and its A320 program greatly. After all, the two aircraft types are direct competitors with one another. However, with such an enormous A320 backlog, Airbus isn’t benefitting from Boeing’s MAX troubles – at least not in the short-term.

Boeing spirit Aerosystems 737MAX getty images
Airbus isn’t getting any benefit from the MAX grounding. Photo: Getty Images

Five-year backlog

At Airbus’ recent press conference discussing its performance and results for 2019, there were several questions about how the 737 MAX has affected Airbus. When one participant asked if the company was approaching Boeing customers, this is what their CEO had to say:

“Because of the situation of the backlog of the A320, it’s very difficult – if not impossible to propose slots in the timeframe that would fit to be able to compensate for the shortfall of the production of the other product.” – Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus

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Indeed, with so many orders to fulfill, Airbus will still have a significant backlog even if Boeing resumes MAX production later this year. In fact, responding to another attendee’s inquiry, Faury said of the A320-family of jets: “We are sold out through 2025 roughly and therefore we cannot step in to offset the needs of airline customers that will not be fulfilled.”

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Can the A220 benefit?

Perhaps it’s not an immediate beneficiary, but it’s possible that the A220 program could gain some attention from the MAX situation – at least Airbus’ CEO seems to think so. In fact, immediately after discussing the backlog of the A320-family program (and its inability to benefit from the MAX situation), he said the following about the A220:

“We have opportunities on the [A]220, obviously – but its a slightly lower segment. But we think the 220 can be a very appropriate solution for some of the needs in the market. We see the success of the product growing and we think the 220’s a very strong offer for many customers” – Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus

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While its backlog is not as large as the A320-family of aircraft, the A220 still has about 550 unfulfilled orders as of the end of January. Airbus declined to disclose its production rate, citing confidentiality.

However, the company did disclose that there were only 48 A220s delivered in 2019. That being said, Airbus says it is working hard to ramp up production of the smaller aircraft as its Mobile, Alabama plant came online recently. It wants to be able to produce four per month by 2025 at this new plant. At its Canadian facility in Mirabel, Airbus is aiming for a 10 per month rate by 2025.

14 aircraft per month by 2025? Looking at the numbers, we’re skeptical that even the A220 would be able to benefit from the 737 MAX situation!

The assembly line in Mobile, Alabama
The Mobile factory produces some A320s as well as the A220. Photo: Airbus

Conclusion

Airbus and its CEO have maintained an extremely diplomatic approach around its archrival’s unfortunate situation. “It has to do with safety, and safety is paramount for the industry. This is one of the things we all have in common,” said Faury. In fact, watching the recent press conference, it was clear Faury was trying hard not to mention the words “Boeing” or “737 MAX”. Instead, he chose to go with phrases like “our competitor” and “the other product”.

The MAX crisis has not only damaged the profitability of 737 MAX customers, but it also shed light on greater concerns with Boeing’s design processes and its closeness to the Federal Aviation Administration – the body responsible for certifying the aircraft. This damage to Boeing’s reputation is where Airbus may see a greater benefit – even if it’s something Airbus would rather not have.

With the MAX crisis, do you see any benefits to Airbus in the short term? Let us know if there’s something we’re missing by leaving a comment!

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JFP

What he didn’t say is what Airbus would do if they were to get a “conquest” customer like Southwest or Ryanair proper. I’m sure a current/”loyal or captive” Airbus customer would be “incentivised” to delay delivery of “their” aircraft to allow prompt delivery to the “conquered” customer. “Discounting” works in a variety of ways…

Trent

Its more likely that Airbus could take an all Boeing fleet and mix it rather than conquer an all Boeing fleet. Alaska (A220) and IcelandAir (A321XLR) are examples of fleets that Airbus could make inroads in. Boeing would pay the price card with SWA and RyanAir to keep them all Boeing.

martyn

Alaska airlines has 30 A320neo’s on order.

High Mile Club

Alaska is a dual operator, so they’ll take the MAX and neo for their business.

Trent

Thanks for the comments. I knew Alaska inherited Virgins Airbus aircraft but had realized they had ordered additional. Their first plan was to return them. Thanks!

JFP

Left over from the Virgin America buy…

Armand2REP

Airbus has four production sites for A320s and two for A220s, you would think ramping up production at six locations they would be able to take advantage of the 737 MAX.

Joe

With the backlog they have, they’re already probably running as fast as they can. If they want to build more planes, they’d sacrifice quality over quantity.

John

Nice. Thats’ what I was suggesting in my comment above.

DIMOSTHENIS ANTONOPOULOS

Although it is not easy, in the short term, to increase the production of an airplane, it is obvious that Airbus and Boeing don’t really compete with each other. They better prefer to share the market and make it difficult for third producers to enter in it. At least, we, the travelers have the main problem, flying with even older, due to this reason unsafer, airplanes and paying an even more expensive fare, due to the lack of flyable airplanes.

David

Well just looking at the title to this article seems to me inaccurate. No matter whose statistics or analysis we look at Boeing orders have never been lower, their production and delivery rate is down and orders have even been cancelled. Airbus stats reveal the opposite. This observation is of course in keeping with common sense. There is of course no way that Airbus can fill the gap left by Boeing. Lets hope they don’t even try. But to suggest Airbus have gained little does not sit well with me. Their order book is excellent and in any event their… Read more »

Joe

While Airbus is probably benefiting a bit from the MAX crisis, they need Boeing to pull themselves together. Boeing is the only thing that keeps Airbus competitive and vice versa. If Boeing went out of business, Airbus would never fill the gap left, which would easily allow other manufacturers to enter the market. COMAC could benefit tremendously from such an event. Airbus and Boeing might both have conflicting interests when it comes to sales, but it is in both their interests to block aspiring Chinese/Russian manufacturers from getting even a toehold in the aviation market.

John

It is inevitable that Chinese airliners become dominant, at least within China and its sphere of influence in Asia and Africa.

Ian Campbell

1. Boeing is 99% honest engineers and leadership and 1% corrupt bean-counters. I am sure that Airbus has a similar problem, but has kept those 1% from pushing ideas and time-frames that end up killing passengers. Note in point: A380 is a safe aircraft … but a financial nightmare – it should never have been pushed as far into global markets as it was – and airport terminal reconfiguration/tax-dollar spending to accommodate its obesity is now largely wasted. 2. I am very curious about the certification pathways and hope that any and all design issues are fleshed out – internationally… Read more »

Christian

I could see some A320neo orders get deferred or cancelled outright in Asia as a result of the coronavirus, which I feel could set Asian aviation (especially Chinese airlines) back 5-10 years and will likely also lead to bankruptcies and/or mergers

Joe

Remember that airlines think long-term — the coronavirus will be around for months, while the planes they order now will be around for decades. Airlines won’t cancel orders because of decreased demand for a few months.

WordsMatter

It’s oddly understandible that Airbus isn’t gaining any tangible advantage over Boeing in the near term, directly or in profits and unless Airbus can ramp up production, any increased orders for Airbus also won’t translate into any benefit. However: 1.) the 737MAX crisis has contributed to placing the A220 programme on a sure footing and I expect with the rate at which orders are increasing, production of A220 is already in Airbus’ sights to be ramped up. 2.) Boeing’s 737 product in its segment of the market fell behind the Airbus product (A320) a long time ago in terms of… Read more »

John

So maybe give Bombardier an option to also build 320s in Quebec. It could benefit them and Airbus already has the real estate locked down. Any leverage they can create over Boeing would be welcome after what Boeing did to the A220.

WordsMatter

I don’t think Bombardier has any plant or capacity left that it could apply towards building A220s or A320s.

WordsMatter

Yes, Boeing took the potential success of the C series (now A220) as meaning Bombardier potentially and eventually evolving into a future direct Boeing compettitor. Boeing decided to block the C series as best it could even though the C series did not compete directly with any of the Boeing products. Even though Boeing’s stance was seen by many as being unjustified, overboard and showing an uncompetitive spirit, Boeing on the other hand could also be seen as merely doing due diligence.. I imagine Boeing now sorely regrets the position it took then. Airbus has shown how unimaginative and shortsighted… Read more »

Eddie Guild

Probably little or no benefit to Airbus and certainly not in the short term. I think the 737 Max needs to be re-branded as I am sure there will be strong passenger reluctance to using the Max in the future. Seems to me that Boeing and the FAA had a relationship that was far from healthy.