Boeing versus Airbus: a graphic tale of two disasters | Best of 2020

This article was written and originally published on August 9, 2020. 

Every facet of the airline industry buckles under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic. As airlines are strapped for cash, they are not only laying off workers in their thousands, but also canceling their aircraft orders. So, how are the two biggest aircraft manufacturers handling the crisis? Let’s compare.

First off, we have to consider the fact that Airbus and Boeing are rather different companies. Although the major part of their revenue – at least in 2019 – was generated through the production and sales of commercial aircraft, both firms have large, but different footholds in other sectors.


It’s only fair if we exclude Space, defense, and security for both companies in most of our further calculations. Airbus Helicopters should be removed as well, as Boeing’s various helicopter companies are mostly under Defense umbrella (there are exceptions, but nothing major), and COVID-19’s impact on both companies’ rotorcraft production was insignificant.

So, the half-year hit to commercial aircraft production that both companies received is quite staggering all across the board, with manufacturers’ revenue, profit, and production rates being heavily impacted.


So, Boeing was losing money well before the start of the pandemic, mainly because the COVID-19 crisis has piled up on top of the previous one. The 737 MAX disaster has been ravaging Boeing’s finances and reputation since March 2019. The number of aircraft delivered by Boeing speaks for itself: after peaking at the end of 2018, along with 737 MAX production numbers, it took a nosedive as Boeing’s best-selling airliner was grounded in March 2019 after the second fatal crash, and the company stopped its deliveries the same month.


Airbus’ deliveries, while constantly fluctuating through years, fell just as the COVID-19 pandemic started to truly wreak havoc in March 2020. It wasn’t until Q2 2020 that the impact of lockdowns was felt, as reflected by the European manufacturer’s spiraling revenue. 

But what about the future? Discounting Boeing’s shrinking backlog, the amount of net orders it received every quarter failed to relapse since the 737 MAX disaster. So, the pandemic’s impact is not as visible in this regard. Airbus, orders-wise, had a fruitful H1 2020, increasing the amount more than twice on a year-to-year basis. But the real challenge for the European firm will come in the last quarter: in Q4 2018 it managed to score the largest commercial order in history with over 250 A320neos ordered in October, which was then beat a year later when India-based IndiGo ordered over 300 A321neos and A320neos. Will there be similar ceiling-shattering orders in the pandemic-ravaged last quarter of 2020? Or maybe Boeing 737 MAX – soon to be resurrected from the grave – will bring new luck to the wavering American manufacturer?


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