The Rivalry between Boeing and Airbus
The competition between Boeing and Airbus has been characterised as a duopoly in the large jet airliner market since the 1990’s. This resulted from a series of mergers within the global aerospace industry, with Airbus beginning as a European consortium while the American Boeing absorbed its former arch-rival, McDonnell Douglas, in a 1997 merger.
There were other manufacturers in the United States and in Europe that were no longer in a position to compete effectively and were forced to withdraw from this jet airliner market. Both of these manufacturers are known for building incredible aircraft, however, there has always been this rivalry as to which one is better.
Airbus and Boeing make some of the safest aeroplanes on the market these days. There's really not too much difference. Both manufacturers have incredible safety records. When unfortunate accidents happen the majority of them come down to human or maintenance error (most times also with human interference or lack thereof). So both companies produce reliable products.
Boeing and Airbus Design Philosophies
Boeing and Airbus have very different design philosophies about their aircraft.
• Airbus developed the A380, which is an enormous plane, known as the “superjumbo” in the wake of the Boeing 747 jumbo. The A380 has two decks along the entire length of it which can seat around 544 people. Their idea was that air traffic keeps growing at a really quick rate; in fact, it’s doubling every 15-20 years, so the thought was that they will need bigger planes. This would also give them more revenue per flight and a cheaper cost per seat to the traveller.
As for commercial pilots commanding these aircraft, Airbus believe in reducing human error so the aircraft are designed to allow much less human control of its “fly-by-wire” system. The pilot cannot override autopilot completely, leaving the majority of control up to the aircraft systems.
• Boeing has had the 747 in flight since the 1990’s. Their more recent approach did not follow that of their competitor, rather than following suit by just making aircraft bigger, they believe people should travel nonstop on routes where they previously couldn't and built the Boeing 777 family. The design carries fewer passengers than its Airbus counterpart, but the expected range is further, with lower fuel consumption and emissions.
Some pilots may enjoy the override of the autopilot that Boeing allows on its “yoke” system. The belief is that the pilot should be able to take control in certain situations as this could be better for overall safety.
Boeing and Airbus Global Sales
In 2016 Airbus sold (in units):
- • 46 - A320ceo jetliners
- • 561 - A320neo jetliners
- • 41 - A330ceo jetliners
- • 42 - A330neo jetliners and
- • 41 - A350 jetliners
- • Totaling 731 units sold
On the other hand, Boeing sold (in units):
- • 16 - 737 next generation family planes
- • 534 - 737 MAX family of jets
- • 17 - 747-8 jetliners
- • 26 – 767 jetliners
- • 17 – 777 jetliners and
- • 58 – 787 jetliners
- • Totaling 668 units sold
As can be seen, these figures paint a very close picture and in fact, this has been the case for the 10 year period from 2004 to 2014 as well, with Airbus having 500 more orders over the 10 year period.
Boeing does, however, seem to have improved efficiencies as it out-delivered Airbus by 80 units in 2016.
Future Developments for Airbus and Boeing
2017 will be a momentous year for both companies, as the Boeing 737 MAX 9 and 787-10, as well as the Airbus A319neo and A330neo are expected to embark on their first flights.
The Boeing 737 MAX 8 and Airbus A321neo and A350-1000 are also projected to enter into service.
At the end of the day the fact remains, Boeing and Airbus are manufacturers of incredible commercial aircraft, with Airbus being that slight bit ahead of Boeing in terms of usage. As technology continues to change we should see some impressive development from Boeing that could help them get that edge on their aircraft. Their improved efficiency in delivery could also see them take over the lead.
Who knows what these two giants have up their sleeves. We will just have to wait and see as the proverbial battle for the skies continues. So, for now, this battle is just too close to call.