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Boeing vs. Airbus: Who Won Paris Air Show 2019?

June 21, 2019
6 min read
Boeing vs. Airbus: Who Won Paris Air Show 2019?
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The 2019 iteration of the Paris Air Show started off relatively slow. Boeing finished the first day of the show with not a single new commercial order.

Many expected a slow show for Boeing. As the manufacturer entered month three of the grounding of its 737 MAX aircraft following the crashes of two of its planes — with Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air — the company was expected to lay low. Sure, maybe an order here or there, but no New Midsize Airplane (NMA) launch. And surely no 737 MAX orders, the thinking went.

The one thing that did get the show off to a notable start, however, was Airbus's confirmation on Monday that it would launch its longest-range, single-aisle plane: the A321XLR. It quickly landed orders from American Airlines Middle Eastern Airlines, among others. All the while, the Boeing chalet remained quiet. Until Tuesday afternoon, the jetmaker's visit to the 2019 air show was highlighted by an order for 30 787 Dreamliners by existing customer Korean Air.

Then came the bombshell.

Airbus, Virgin Atlantic and Rolls-Royce executives announce an A330neo order at the 2019 Paris Air Show. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.
Airbus, Virgin Atlantic and Rolls-Royce executives announce an A330neo order at the 2019 Paris Air Show. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.

On Tuesday afternoon, Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group — the parent company of British Airways and Iberia — announced the group was ordering Boeing's troubled 737 MAX aircraft. Not just a handful, but 200 of them, split between the 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 10 variants, with some heading to LEVEL and some to Vueling.

The order took everyone by surprise, and perhaps provided Boeing and its MAX program the lifeline it needed. Coming into the show, no airline had ordered the MAX since the fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash and subsequent grounding of the aircraft worldwide.

While it likely saved the air show for Boeing — and took the MAX off the mat — the order came at a cost for Boeing. While the order was valued at more than $24 billion, Walsh and IAG likely got the 200 jets for a steal. Not only do airlines get heavily discounted deals when buying great number of aircraft in a single order, but given the fact that Boeing was likely desperate for the order, IAG's probably received a substantial discount.

"We are truly honored and humbled by the leadership at International Airlines Group for placing their trust and confidence in the 737 MAX and, ultimately, in the people of Boeing and our deep commitment to quality and safety above all else," Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Kevin McAllister, said in a statement.

Boeing remained quiet on the issues surrounding its MAX aircraft during the air show. The airliner remains grounded, awaiting a fix and regulatory approval before returning to the skies.

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Although Boeing's IAG 737 MAX order was a jaw-dropper, Airbus had the far more consistent show. Aside from launching the A321XLR, which has a range of about 5,400 miles and will begin flying in 2023, the European manufacturer also locked in orders from Air Lease Corporation, Virgin Atlantic, Middle East Airlines, Cebu Pacific, International Airlines Group (for Aer Lingus and Iberia), Qantas, JetBlue and Indigo Partners (for Frontier, Wizz Air and JetSMART), among others.

So, who "won" the Paris Air Show? On the face of it and in terms of orders for planes, Airbus took the show. Not only did it announce a new plane, but it was well received from airlines, with more than 200 orders from the beginning of the week. Along with the orders for the A321XLR, Airbus announced dozens additional orders for aircraft ranging from A330neos to A220s and more. Plus, Airbus had the pleasure in knowing that its A321XLR announcement came before Boeing's still-virtual New Midsize Airplane (NMA).

But, that said, Boeing very well might consider the show as much of a win as it could have imagined. With the surprise blockbuster order from IAG to purchase 200 of its tainted 737 MAX aircraft, the manufacturer may have gotten more out of the show than it was originally expecting.

(Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

It's worth noting that when it comes to aircraft orders, there are a range of commitments — Letter of Intents, Memorandum of Understanding, firm orders, converted orders. Not all orders that were announced a the Paris Air Show should be taken in the same light, as some are likely to drop off or be converted.

The below comparison includes orders for commercial aircraft between the two manufacturers that were placed during the week of the Paris Air Show.

Air Lease Corporation (5 787-9s)Air Lease Corporation (50 A220-300s; 27 A321XLRs; 23 A321neos)
International Airlines Group (200 737 MAXs)American Airlines (50 A321XLRs)
Korean Air (30 787s)Cebu Pacific (16 A330neos; 10 A321XLRs; 5 A320neos)
Turkmenistan Airlines (1 777-200LR)China Airlines (11 A321neos)
Delta Air Lines (5 A220s)
Indigo Partners (50 A321XLRs)
International Airlines Group (14 A321XLRs)
JetBlue (13 A321XLRs; 10 A220-300s)
Middle East Airlines (4 A321XLRs)
Qantas (36 A321XLR)
Saudi Arabian Airlines (15 A321XLRs; undisclosed number of A320neos)
Virgin Atlantic (14 A330neos)
TOTAL: 236TOTAL: 345+ 

Of course, these orders could, in fact, change in the end. For a year that was deemed by many to be a quiet and uneventful air show, both Boeing and Airbus added some important orders to their books. For Airbus, affirmation that its A321XLR was wanted, and for Boeing, a new order on the books for its 737 MAX. As for what happens in the future of the MAX program, however, is still up for discussion.

Featured image by Airbus, Virgin Atlantic and Rolls-Royce executives announce an A330neo order at the 2019 Paris Air Show. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.