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Boeing bonanza leaves Airbus in the dust at 2023 Dubai Airshow with three times more aircraft orders

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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 Airshow, 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’s 86 orders by day four 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 its Rolls-Royce engines.

Boeing kicked off the first day of the show with a massive order of 95 777 wide-body jets from Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates Airline at a value of $52 billion, followed by an $11 billion order from Emirates subsidiary and low-cost carrier flydubai for 30 of its first-ever 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 on 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 in the last few Dubai shows, trailed behind with 86 aircraft orders, the largest from Air Baltic which bought 30 narrow-body A220-300s with an option for a further 20. Ethiopian Airlines ordered 11 of Airbus’s widebody A350-900s, while EgyptAir purchased 10 of the same jet.

Emirates on Thursday ordered 15 of the French planemaker’s A350-900 jets at a value of $6 billion, a much smaller purchase than previously anticipated, after the carrier’s president Tim Clark openly criticized the cost and maintenance required for the Rolls-Royce engines in the Airbus A350.

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

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 Airshow in 2021, and approaching the 356 orders in clinched at the 2023 Paris Airshow in June. Airbus’s order figure of 86 aircraft is meanwhile significantly behind its 2023 Paris Airshow haul of 846 orders and 2021 Dubai Airshow total of 408.

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

“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 airshow.

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.

“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 Airshow takes place every two years and this year hosted some 1,400 commercial and military exhibitors from 95 countries, according to its website.

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