By Julie Johnsson / Bloomberg News
The Boeing Co. delivered a record 806 commercial aircraft in 2018, edging out Airbus to retain the crown as world’s largest plane-maker.
The U.S. industrial titan also revealed a last-minute flurry of aircraft deals, enabling it to sell more jets than it built in 2018. Boeing netted orders for 893 jetliners last year with a list value of $143.7 billion, padding its backlog and easing investor concerns that U.S.-China trade tensions and whipsawing oil prices could soften demand for new planes.
For Boeing and Airbus, aerospace’s dueling duopolists, year-end order and delivery totals provide bragging rights — and a hint of company earnings reports to be announced over the next month. While Boeing fell shy of its target, Airbus met its twice-lowered delivery goal of 800 jets in 2018, according to preliminary results released Tuesday.
“Although Boeing came in a little short of our delivery estimate for the year, we’re talking small numbers,” Robert Stallard, an analyst with Vertical Research Partners, said in a note to clients. “The weighting of deliveries to the fourth quarter should be positive for cash flow, as should the surge in last minute orders and related deposits.”
The tallies face special scrutiny this year, since both manufacturers worked through the year-end holidays to overcome shortages of engines and other parts that have slowed shipments of their highly profitable single-aisle jets.
Boeing delivered 69 Renton-built 737 airplanes in December to bring total shipments of the narrow-body family, its largest source of profit, to 580. That was less than the 593 deliveries predicted by George Ferguson, an aerospace analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.
While the “modest shortfall” caused Boeing to miss its goal of delivering 810 to 815 jets for the year, the plane-maker closed the gap with higher-than-anticipated shipments of two wide-body models, Stallard said. The tally included 10 767s, which were handed over to Boeing’s defense division to be converted into KC-46 aerial refuelers for the U.S. Air Force.
The Chicago-based manufacturer landed 218 aircraft orders in December, underscoring the continued strength of the company’s widebody lineup and robust demand for the 737 MAX. Despite negative publicity from a deadly Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October, Boeing sold 194 of the narrow-body aircraft in December. All but 11 of the jets are bound to undisclosed customers, which are often Chinese carriers.
Boeing also recorded 24 widebody aircraft orders for the month, including four new sales for the 747-8 freighter. The orders will help extend the life of the hump-backed model nicknamed the “Queen of the Skies,” which pioneered a new era of long-range travel when it began flying in 1970.
But Boeing and Airbus will be hard-pressed to extend sales momentum into 2019 in light of rising interest rates and currency weakness for non-dollar-denominated airlines, Ferguson said.
“It was a great December,” he said in an interview. “As we look to 2019, we don’t see the same.”
With assistance by Benjamin D Katz.