Boeing order bonanza leaves Airbus in the dust

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Aermacchi MB-339 trainer aircraft of the Fursan al-Emarat (UAE Knights) aerobatics team release smoke as they fly over with an Emirates Airbus A380-861 jetliner aircraft during the 2023 Dubai Airshow at Dubai World Central – Al-Maktoum International Airport in Dubai on November 13, 2023. 

Giuseppe Cacace | Afp | Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — American aerospace giant Boeing eclipsed its French rival Airbus after four days of deals at the 2023 Dubai Air Show, underlining strong demand for wide-body jets in particular and making a strong comeback after several years of underperformance following major safety scandals.

Boeing chalked up 295 aircraft orders in comparison to Airbus’ 86 orders by Day 4 of the Middle East’s largest aviation event, according to company updates and tallies from industry experts. The French manufacturer grappled with publicly aired concerns over the cost and performance of the Rolls-Royce engines on its planes.

Boeing kicked off the first day of the show with a massive order for 90 of its 777 wide-body jets from Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates Airline at list prices of $52 billion, followed by an $11 billion order from Emirates subsidiary and low-cost carrier FlyDubai for 30 of its first-ever-ordered 787 Boeing Dreamliners.

The robust appetite for wide-body jets highlighted both Dubai’s optimistic outlook for long-haul air travel as well as the importance of the Middle East market to the aircraft model’s demand. The purchases showed Dubai flexing its muscles as a leading East-West transit hub, looking keen to defend and increase its market share amid rising competition or expansion from carriers in Turkey, India and Saudi Arabia.

A Boeing 777-X aircraft flies during the 2023 Dubai Airshow at Dubai World Central – Al-Maktoum International Airport in Dubai on November 13, 2023. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Giuseppe Cacace | Afp | Getty Images

The Emirates order was made up of 55 additional Boeing 777-9s and 35 of its 777-8s, bringing the airline’s total orders for the 777X wide-body jets to 205 units. Emirates also updated its order of Boeing 787 Dreamliners from 30 to 35.

The significant proportion of wide-body jets at the Dubai show “reflects the surge in international travel in 2023; and it favors BA (Boeing), which is stronger than Airbus in widebodies and has snared ~50% of the Dubai dollar order value,” analysts at TD Cowen wrote in a note Wednesday.

Turkish-German airline SunExpress made the second-largest Boeing order after Emirates, comprised of 56 of its narrow-body 737-8s and 34 737-10s. Ethiopian Airlines followed with up to 41 737-8s and 26 787-9s, then FlyDubai with 30 787-9s, Kazakhstan’s SCAT Airlines with seven 737-8s, and Royal Jordanian and Royal Air Maroc with orders of four and two 787-9s, respectively.

Airbus faces ongoing deal talks, engine criticism

Airbus, which had firmly dominated at the last few Dubai shows, trailed behind with 86 aircraft orders, the largest from AirBaltic which bought 30 narrow-body A220-300s with an option for a further 20. Ethiopian Airlines ordered 11 of Airbus’ wide-body A350-900s, while EgyptAir purchased 10 of the same jet.

An Airbus A350-1000 aircraft flies above a mosque during the 2023 Dubai Airshow at Dubai World Central – Al-Maktoum International Airport on November 14, 2023. 

Karim Sahib | Afp | Getty Images

Emirates on Thursday ordered 15 of the French plane maker’s A350-900 jets, a purchase the airline said is worth $6 billion — a much smaller order than previously anticipated, after the carrier’s president, Tim Clark, openly criticized the cost and maintenance required for the Rolls-Royce engines on the Airbus A350.

“If the engine was doing what we want it to do … then it would reenter the mix of assessment for our fleet plan,” Clark told journalists at the air show. He said that Emirates would have ordered 35-50 of the jets otherwise.

Emirates president says airline has all tools needed to negotiate expansion and external shocks

In a statement replying to the comments, Rolls-Royce said that the A350-900’s XWB-84 engine “is the best engine out there when you look at efficiency, durability and reliability.” 

Industry watchers also anticipated a blockbuster sale for Airbus of 355 planes to Turkish Airlines. But instead of a signing, the two said they reached an “agreement in principle for a significant commercial aircraft order,” with the Turkish flag carrier saying in an Istanbul stock exchange filing that its “discussions with Airbus” are “ongoing.”

Boeing orders ‘exceeded investor expectations’

Boeing’s orders are already nearly three times as high as its total orders from the Dubai Air Show in 2021, and approaching the 356 orders in clinched at the 2023 Paris Air Show in June. Airbus’ order figure of 86 aircraft is meanwhile significantly behind its 2023 Paris Air Show haul of 846 orders and 2021 Dubai Air Show total of 408.

Before this week, the iconic American manufacturer hadn’t enjoyed a winning performance at a Dubai Air Show since 2017. In 2019, Boeing’s sales were badly hit after two catastrophic crashes of its popular 737 Max jet in less than five months. Roughly 400 737 Max jets around the world were grounded for nearly two years.

Boeing has a seven-year backlog at current production rates

“We believe the Dubai order flows have exceeded investor expectations thus far for Boeing,” analysts at RBC Capital Markets wrote in a note after the second day of the air show.

The analysts still saw potential future orders for Airbus. “Despite Airbus not yet solidifying its deal with Turkish Airlines, we believe the order activity could be increasing across other airlines,” RBC wrote on Tuesday.

A Riyadh Air Boeing 787-9 jetliner aircraft is pictured on the tarmac during the 2023 Dubai Airshow at Dubai World Central – Al-Maktoum International Airport in Dubai on November 13, 2023.

Giuseppe Cacace | Afp | Getty Images

“Saudi Arabia’s newest airline, Riyadh Air, said it could be looking to make a narrowbody purchase, along with [low-cost Saudi carrier] Flyadeal, who could be planning to order about ~150 more” narrow-body jets, it said.

The Middle East’s largest aviation event, the Dubai Air Show takes place every two years and this year hosted some 1,400 commercial and military exhibitors from 95 countries, according to its website.

'We clearly need more capacity,' Dubai Airports CEO says after Boeing signs $52 billion deal with Emirates

Correction: Boeing kicked off the first day of the show with a massive order for 90 of its 777 wide-body jets from Emirates Airline. An earlier version misstated the number.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that Airbus uses Rolls-Royce engines on its planes. 

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