Aerospace & Defense

Airbus Beats Boeing to 60 Narrow-Bodies a Month, Backlog Tops $1 Trillion

Paris-traded Airbus reported results Friday morning for the first nine months of 2015. Revenues for the group were up 6% to €43 billion (about $47.3 billion). In the commercial aircraft division, revenues rose 8% on 446 deliveries, including 19 A380s and five A350s. Earnings per share (EPS) rose from €1.79 in the first nine months of 2014 to €2.42. For the quarter EPS rose from €0.34 in the same period a year ago to €0.48.

Given the strong performance, the company also announced that it would immediately commence a €1 billion share buyback program that it expects to conclude by June of 2016.

More important was the announcement that Airbus will increase its monthly production of its A320 family of narrow-body planes to 60 by mid-2019. Airbus had previously said the production rate would increase to 50 in the first quarter of 2017. A company executive said that growing demand for the single-aisle planes with both the current engine option and the new engine option was the main driver for the increase. Airbus currently has a backlog of more than 4,300 orders for its A320 jets.

Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) is virtually certain to respond. The Chicago-based firm has announced a monthly production increase to 52 for its 737 narrow-body family of planes in 2018. Boeing’s current 737 production totals 42 a month and the company has announced an increase to 47 in 2017, before reaching 52 the following year. The company has said it is considering a further increase to 60, but has not made a decision yet.

Airbus reported that the value of its order book reached €967 billion ($1.06 trillion) based on list prices. Boeing’s backlog value totals $485 billion, but it is based on actual selling prices (which the company does not reveal). The Airbus backlog totaled 6,755 at the end of September, compared with nearly 5,700 in Boeing’s backlog.

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The production increase on the A320s was expected, but the Airbus plan is pretty aggressive, and it is doubtful that Boeing can match the timing. If Boeing increases monthly production to 52 planes in 2018, getting to 60 in another year seems a real stretch. Both aircraft makers face the same problems, not the least of which is ramping up production at their hundreds of suppliers.

Airbus stock traded up about 5.6% in Paris Friday, at €64.11 in a 52-week range of €39.64 to €67.88.

Boeing shares closed down about 0.5% on Thursday, at $147.18 in a 52-week range of $115.14 to $158.83.