Boeing is set to overtake Airbus for the first time in a decade by delivering more passenger jets to customers in 2012, primarily because the US manufacturer is cranking up production of its 787 Dreamliner after years of delay.
Four analysts estimated Boeing’s jet deliveries to airlines and leasing companies would exceed those of Airbus in 2012, adding the US company should maintain its lead over its European rival until at least 2015.
As the two manufacturers increase production of single- and twin-aisle aircraft significantly over the coming three years in response to strong demand, Boeing and EADS, Airbus’ parent, are well placed to boost shareholder returns.
However, both groups are facing questions about how long they can sustain their higher production rates.
Nick Cunningham, analyst at Agency Partners, predicted the two manufacturers would cut aircraft production after 2015.
“Aircraft orders have either peaked or are about to peak for Airbus and Boeing, and the historical trend tells us that the peak in aircraft deliveries will follow within two or three years,” he said.
Boeing is expecting to supply customers with up to 600 aircraft in 2012, compared with Airbus’ forecast of 580 jet deliveries.
In the 11 months to November 30, Boeing delivered 537 aircraft to customers, while Airbus supplied 516.
This past year could mark the first time Boeing has surpassed Airbus’ deliveries since 2002 — when the European manufacturer was seeking market parity with its US rival. For the previous 30 years, Boeing consistently delivered more aircraft to customers than Airbus.
Although Boeing and Airbus continue to dominate the passenger jet market, their duopoly is under increasing threat from smaller players including Comac, the fledgling Chinese aircraft maker.
Against this backdrop, Boeing and EADS are seeking to put themselves into a position to return more cash to shareholders.
On December 17, Boeing announced a 10 per cent increase in its quarterly dividend and a share buyback because of the group’s “positive growth outlook”.
EADS is planning a share buyback alongside a proposed restructuring of its state shareholders. The EADS board is this year expected to consider the case for increasing the group’s dividend.
Research and development spending at Boeing and Airbus should fall in the coming years, because their new widebody aircraft programmes are going into production.
Boeing is well ahead of Airbus in this respect — the US manufacturer delivered 35 twin-aisle 787s to customers in the first 11 months of 2012. The first 787 was supplied three years late to ANA, the Japanese airline, in 2011.
Airbus is only due to deliver the first of its planned A350 widebody aircraft in 2014.
Boeing’s shares rose just 3 per cent in 2012, amid concerns about whether it could increase aircraft production — particularly the 787 — without glitches.
EADS’ shares, by contrast, rose 22 per cent, as Airbus improved its underlying operating margin to 3.3 per cent in the nine months to September 30, compared with 1.3 per cent in the equivalent prior period.