A summer battle for orders is underway in the global jet industry, which gathered in Beijing yesterday for the first of two crucial events in two months, pitting the world’s largest planemakers against each other in a race for deals worth US$50 billion at catalogue prices.
The potential deals span all continents and every pattern of powered flight from the largest airliners to warplanes and luxury business jets, shielding aerospace workers from the worst effects of a slowdown spreading from Europe’s debt crisis.
However, analysts say Airbus and Boeing are having to offer sporadically hefty discounts to ride out economic uncertainty, especially for maturing models or early batches of new ones like the 787 Dreamliner.
Boeing is expected to win the fiercely contested annual order race for the first time since 2006 as it catches up with a decision by Airbus to revamp medium-haul jets, resulting in big fuel savings for airlines on the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.
The dominant civil planemakers are also positioning themselves early ahead of next month’s Farnborough Airshow, with deals worth US$14 billion announced in the past 72 hours.
Several industry analysts say pricing is under pressure this year.
“Both sides are heavily discounting,” said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst at US-based Teal Group.
Although the made-over medium-haul jets offer airlines a reduction of 15 percent in fuel, the industry’s highest cost, most carriers remain under financial pressure and some are delaying deliveries to shore up their cash positions.
Chicago-based Boeing was relegated to the background during most of last year’s equivalent event as Airbus broke records with sales of the A320neo, but later opted for a similar upgrade.
This year will be different.
Boeing is preparing to hit back with a spree that could soon include an order from United Continental for 100 narrowbody jets plus about 70 options, industry sources said.
It will want to persuade the top five aircraft leasing companies led by AIG unit ILFC to put firm signatures on undisclosed draft orders that US aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton estimates at 300 to 400 jets. These will include an order from GECAS, whose General Electric makes 737 engines.
If all goes as some in the industry expect, Boeing could double the number of firm orders for its revamped 737 MAX to as high as 1,000 by the end of Farnborough. It may be European Airbus’s turn to be overshadowed, though possibly not without surprises such as a new order for its A380 superjumbo.
Airbus on Friday reached 1,425 sales of the revamped A320neo since it was introduced, giving it a share of 76 percent in medium-haul, the market’s hottest segment. Over time the balance of power is expected to be roughly equal as the duopoly recovers.
Boeing has 451 firm MAX sales and its data suggests it has at least 549 draft orders, including 414 yet to be identified.
The industry’s archrivals are also facing off indirectly in the global arms market this summer with a competition to supply dozens of fighters to South Korea.
Bids are due on Monday next week and industry sources believe a decision may come as early as September in an US$8 billion contest between Boeing’s F-15, the Eurofighter made by a group including Airbus parent EADS, and the Lockheed Martin F-35.
Asia, the Middle East and Latin America are re-arming to replace ageing equipment or in the face of regional threats, and Western suppliers are wooing them aggressively to try to offset domestic budget cuts.