Airbus vs Boeing – Which Plane Manufacturer Is Best?

When hearing the sad news that Airbus has canceled the A380 program, it makes someone introspective of the industry. The ending of such a huge programme leads to an upheaval of jobs, a scramble of suppliers and a restructuring of the aviation industry. A scramble that might take one manufacture of aircraft from the underdog to the king of the hill.

And with only two names in our duopoly, Boeing and Airbus, we thought it was high time we examined them closely to see which was best.

787 Factory at Everett
The 787 Factory at Everett. Photo: Boeing

How will we compare the companies?

Now, we can already hear the millions of keyboards typing away on how this article is completely and utterly incorrect, but this choice is made every week by airlines around the world as they look to purchase the next assets for their growing fleets. With countries like China reportedly needing over seven thousand jets over the coming years, it is a choice that is more important than ever.

So we will pretend to be an airline looking to buy and will examine both these firms from that point of view. We will examine financials, structure, fleets (products) and more.

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At a glance

AirbusBoeing
Staff size130,000153,000
Revenue (2018) – USD$71 Billion$101 Billion
Profit (2018) – USD$5.68 Billion$10.4 Billion
Orders (2018)747893

Airbus is the smaller company but makes around half of what Boeing does. This might be because Boeing receives millions in government contracts (see below) as well as having cheaper aircraft to build. Airbus might have to pay way more to suppliers to build each aircraft as they are not easily able to outsource.

Broughton Factory
Airbus wings are currently built in the United Kingdom. Photo: Airbus

Fleets

Both Airbus and Boeing go head to head with fleet options. Just see below for a range of different VS articles that go into detail for each.

At the end of the day, both of these firms invest millions in technology and engineering to build the ultimate safe flying transportation. Some planes might be better than others, but you would be hard pressed to choose between the two.

That being said, more often than not Boeing is lauded for their firsts. They were the first to build a plane out of composite materials (the 787 Dreamliner at 50%, Airbus has since built a 53% composite aircraft, the A350), the first to build a double-decker 747, the queen of the skies and the first to

“If you are a pilot, you may prefer Boeing because the yoke gives a better sense of what the plane is experiencing. Although, I can also understand why some pilots would prefer flying Airbus because the controls are more high-tech with automation to eliminate the human error factor in safety.”

Some would even go as far as to say that Airbus simply waited around and observed Boeing. They watched them develop the 707 and how they built the 737 before having a crack on their own. After all, did Airbus build the A380 just to follow in the 747 footsteps? We will let you decide below in the comments.

Which aircraft are more popular?

If we were to examine aircraft orders between the two firms and plot them on a graph, it would look like this:

Whilst the American Boeing was incredibly popular in the past (such as the 737 programs), now it seems that Airbus is able to match them plane for plane. In 2018, Boeing had 893 orders whilst Airbus only had 747. So by simple maths, we can say that Boeing is the more popular company through orders.

Emirates Airbus Order
Emirates has placed an order for 30 A350-900 Aircraft. Photo: Emirates

Manufacturing

Both Airbus and Boeing officially manufacture they airliners in their home countries, however, it is very common to actually source and build around the world. Boeing actually builds most of their planes internationally (where products may be cheaper or closer to customers) and then finish them in America. An example of this is the 787 Dreamliner that is heavily built in Japan.

Airbus, thanks to its European founders, was highly restricted to only using European suppliers and manufacturers. This means that most of their products are built and completed exclusively in Europe.

But wait, Airbus/Boeing is government subsidies!

One of the common arguments when comparing these two firms is that one of them is supported by the government whilst the other is a hardworking capitalist firm. In the previous sentence, both Airbus and Boeing could be swapped intermediately.

The truth is, both technically are. Boeing gets exclusive contracts with the US military and government (that time and time again Airbus is knocked out of the running, even when they win) whilst Airbus gets unfair tax breaks and government subsidies in the form of government orders. This is a tit for tat argument and hard to break down simply.

But what do they do with this competitive advantage? It allows them to price their planes far cheaper than asking price:

AircraftList Price ($m)Market Value ($m)Discount
A380432.6236.545%
B777-300ER339.6154.854%
A350-900308.115051%
B787-9264.6142.846%
B787-8224.6117.148%
A330-300256.4109.557%
A330-200231.586.663%
A321114.952.554%
A320neo107.348.555%
B737-900ER101.948.153%
B737-8009646.552%
A3209844.455%
A31989.637.358%
B737-70080.635.356%

As you can see, both companies press these advantages to beat the competition.

So who is the best?

At the end of the day, both companies produce safe and reliable aircraft that you should have no problems traveling on. Most aircraft interiors are made and designed by the airlines, so whether or not you are comfortable depends on reasons well outside Airbus/Boeing’s control.

Ideally, it comes down to personal preference. Be it the government supported Airbus or the military contracted Boeing, it is up to you.

6 comments
  1. This kind of article is not very useful…
    Airbus is much younger, and had to build a completely new catalogue from the A320 to the A380…
    Only the B737 and B747 are older than Airbus is. Boeing has been installed on the market for a while. This allows Boeing to have a strong history of client discussions and therefore to build aircraft fitting the needs of them.
    Airbus arrived later and decided to attack Boeing on each of its market, otherwise they would be able to have a strong niche where they could have a very favorable pricing, and then “dump” prices where Airbus is on the same market. This explains the A380 move.
    Was it a commercial success? No. Is it an economical failure? No, and neither a success. It is economically neutral. However, the impact on the rest of the portfolio is probably quite important.

    I would say that Boeing made the perfect moves on the long haul market… The B787 came in reaction to the best selling A330. The B777X is also the perfect move. And the B777 was definitely the genius one.
    And there is no possible doubt on that.
    On the other side, Airbus did also the perfect moves with the A320 family, and by getting involved in the CSeries program. On the medium-haul Airbus answers perfectly the needs of the market, and Boeing reacted to Airbus by stretching their existing aircrafts.
    On the long haul, on the lower size, Airbus is quite successful commercially (comparable to Boeing), and financially much more successful. On the other hand, for the higher end of the market, it is quite the opposite. Boeing is both commercially and financially very successful where Airbus is struggling more.
    The good news is that Airbus will soon reach the break-even point (end of 2019). For the 787, with the differed costs it’s difficult to know exactly when the break-even will be reached. The deferred production costs are still at 23 billion at the end of 2018. https://www.boeing.com/investors/accounting-considerations.page/

    One sure thing, both manufacturers produce very safe aircrafts. And the competition is as usual pushing both to do better, and therefore it is better for the passengers. And ultimately, this is what matters. If a monopoly was in place, the B777 wouldn’t need to evolve, the B747 wouldn’t have an “8” version, there also wouldn’t be an A320 NEO… And by the sells, you can just see that both portfolios fit some needs, and that the differences between aircrafts are interesting for the airlines to have the best strategy possible…

  2. I personally will always be a Boeing fan . The 747 , was in my mind ,the best aircraft ever built . Its a sad era to see then slowly retiring from service .

  3. Only Airbus has won US millitary contracts and the KC-46 was legitimate. The Airbus offering was to big for the solicitation so the protest was legit.

    I know we have Airbus helicopters in the Army and Boeing makes helicopters too.
    Boeing will defended it turf but Airbus can win here

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