Thanks to a promptly finalized deal with Iran Air, Airbus won more sales in 2016. But Boeing delivered significantly more airplanes, especially the higher-priced large jets. Boeing’s total production outpaced its European rival by about $15 billion.
Thanks to a large order from Iran booked in December, Airbus sold more airplanes than Boeing in 2016.
But Boeing built more airplanes last year, especially the higher-value large jets.
Airbus data released Wednesday reveal that the European jet maker booked a sale for 98 airplanes to Iran in December, which allowed it to outsell Boeing for the year by 63 airplanes.
In production, Airbus struggled with delays especially in the first half of 2016. But in a late push, it managed to deliver a record number of airplanes in December and just beat its target for the year, with 688 jets delivered.
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Still, Boeing assembly plants here and in South Carolina last year built 60 more airplanes for a total 748.
And the gap between the two was even wider in the expensive large-jet category, where Boeing built 115 more widebody airplanes than Airbus.
A Seattle Times analysis, based on market-pricing data from aircraft-valuation firm Avitas, shows the value of Boeing’s total production outpaced its European rival by about $15 billion, or one-third more than Airbus’ deliveries.
At a news conference Wednesday in Toulouse, France, Fabrice Brégier, chief executive of Airbus’ commercial-aircraft division, said the first half of 2016 was “unusually difficult from a production perspective.”
Many airplane deliveries were delayed by shortages in cabin-interior parts and the Pratt & Whitney engines for its new A320neo jets
Brégier projected that with those problems behind it, Airbus will deliver more planes this year as it ramps up A320neo and A350 production.
Airbus sales chief John Leahy promised “a new record in deliveries” in 2017.
The 2016 delivery gap preserves Boeing’s status as the world’s No. 1 plane maker for another year.
However, the planned Airbus production boost coupled with Boeing’s cuts to 777 production could see Airbus pull ahead within a few years.
Airbus wins on sales
Both plane makers faced a severe sales slump in 2016, though each had the typical year-end rush of orders in December.
In the final sales tallies, Iran Air’s order for 98 aircraft ensured Airbus came out on top. For the year, Airbus had 731 net jet orders worth an estimated $46 billion.
Boeing had total net sales of 668 jets, valued at about $44 billion.
Overall, Airbus continues to dominate in sales of smaller jets. It sold 607 of its single-aisle A320 family, including 561 of the new A320neo models.
Boeing sold 550 single-aisle 737s, including 534 of the new 737 MAX models.
And because Boeing’s 777 jet program had few sales last year, Airbus also came out just ahead in sales of widebody jets.
However, with the cyclical airline industry clearly past its peak, 2016 sales were well down from 2015 for both manufacturers.
Airbus sold 305 fewer jets than in 2015.
Leahy acknowledged in the news conference that the sales weakness will continue this year.
Boeing’s Iran deal
Boeing must hope it will soon be able to follow Airbus’ sale to Iran with its own large order.
Boeing in December announced an agreement with Iran Air for 80 aircraft: 50 737 MAX 8s, 15 777-300ERs and 15 777-9s, valued at about $8 billion after standard discounts.
That sale has not been finalized, however, and remains in some doubt because of opposition to doing business with Iran from members of Congress and the incoming Trump administration.
Airbus’ jets contain many U.S.-made parts, which some industry experts had thought might prove a barrier to finalizing the Airbus order.
In an apparent rush to establish the Iran sale as a done deal ahead of the inauguration of the next U.S. president, Airbus also announced the delivery of the first of its jets to Iran Air, an A321 handed over Wednesday in a ceremony in Toulouse.
With Congress unlikely to want to give the European jet maker an advantage, it seems likely that Airbus’ fast-track sale and delivery may help Boeing nail down its own Iran deal.
This story was updated March 3, 2017, to correct the total order number for Boeing in 2016.