MIAMI — Airbus celebrated a major milestone today as JetBlue chalked up the companies 10,000th A320-family order. Boeing, meanwhile, gave a conveniently-timed update to the 737MAX program this morning, touting several new improvements. The two events highlight the ongoing battle between Airbus and Boeing for control of the mid-capacity single-aisle market that, so far, Airbus is winning.
The NEO program, which incorporates significant improvements to the very popular A319, A320, and A321 aircraft, has promised a fuel savings of 15% and 500 nautical miles (nm) of additional range to the existing Airbus aircraft.
The program also offers two engine selections, including the newcomer Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared turbofan option (GTO), an engine Boeing declined to offer on the MAX. The PW1000G is positioned as offering a notably more efficient, quieter version of the current generation of engines but remains largely untested. Orders thus far have split between aircraft incorporating the GTO engines and the more traditional option.
Boeing, for its part, announced today that the airplane is now expected to realize a 14% improvement in fuel efficiency with a 540nm increase in range over current 737s. Unlike the NEO, whose basic components are 95% similar to current aircraft, the MAX reflects substantial changes gleaned from the 787. New technology systems aim to make the aircraft smarter, with the goal of making maintenance easier and more seamless (and thus holding on to the 737s coveted 99.7% dispatch rate). Changes to winglets, the wings, the wingbox will see overall weight savings (it is expected to weigh less than the NEO options) along with aerodynamic improvements.
Yet despite airplanes that appear, on paper, to be relatively evenly matched the A320 NEO has been trouncing the 737MAX on firm orders, with a solid 783 jet lead (as of September 30). Exact reasons are hard to pin down, but likely reflect two reasons: two engines, and build time.
Airbus, as noted above, is offering two different engines for the NEO airplanes. Boeing only offers one. For carriers looking for a particular engine, specifically the PW1000G, there is only one choice.
Perhaps most important, Airbus is beating Boeing in build/delivery time. The first AirbusNEO is expected to be delivered in 2015, after which three (and soon to be four) factories in the US and Europe will be able to pump out the airplanes around the clock. Boeing’s MAX will not even begin assembly until 2015, with the first airplane to be delivered in Q3 of 2017. Once deliveries are underway construction of the airplane is currently limited to the lone factory in Renton, WA, which is already operating near maximum capacity. Boeing’s new set of improvements may be substantial, but they still cannot deliver the airplane’s any earlier.
With airlines needing new planes sooner rather than later, Airbus’ ability to deliver faster may prove to be the deciding factor as carriers weight whether Boeing’s MAX are worth the wait.