If you have ever taken a commercial flight, it was on an Airbus or Boeing. They are the most dominant aircraft manufacturers in the world. Airbus and Boeing take up most of the passenger aircraft market, with little room for other manufacturers.
Boeing was dominant for many years, but Airbus has caught up and even surpassed its rival in some respects. Is this competition healthy for the aviation industry?
Origins of the duopoly
Boeing is more than a hundred-year-old company. It was founded in 1916 by William Boeing and has dominated the aircraft industry ever since. A large part of its reign is thanks to strategic acquisitions of competitors, such as the purchase of McDonnell Douglas in 1997.
Because of its longstanding history in aircraft manufacturing, Boeing had a better position than Airbus. It was founded only in 1970 by consolidating a few major European manufacturers. The first models of Airbus planes, such as the A300, had severely underperformed compared to their Boeing counterparts.
Still, due to how these companies took hold of the market, no other major player entered the industry since the end of the 20th century. European Airbuses and American Boeings dominate the world’s commercial airspace.
Boeing was the only major manufacturer of commercial aeroplanes until Airbus arrived on the scene. It had almost complete control of the market, but things started to change in the 1990s.
By then, Airbus had perfected its A320 family of planes, and many airlines started to purchase them. At first, Airbus took over the low-cost and short-range flight segment in Europe.
Later, the Airbus plane count caught up in the United States too. Although, most transatlantic flights are still done with Boeings. Pilots seem to prefer the manual flight functions of Boeing compared to the automated approach of Airbus planes.
The rapid growth of Airbus is, at least in part, caused by the subsidies from the European Union. Favourable regulations and money from the authorities have kickstarted Airbus in many ways, especially its presence in European airports.
But it would be wrong to say that Boeing hasn’t received any help from the US Government. It is one of the biggest US military contractors, after all. It provides Boeing with a lot of revenue and puts it firmly into the military aircraft industry.
Still, Airbus has slowly but surely secured its place in the commercial aviation market. Interestingly, most of its gains are Boeing’s losses, and some speculate that more help from the US government is needed.
The competition between Boeing and Airbus is frequently changing and highly dependent on innovations and shortfalls of their fleets. That’s why you must follow reputable aviation news to keep up with any new developments in this rivalry.
Airbus A320 and Boeing 737
We can learn the most about the rivalry of these companies by looking into two of their best-selling commercial aeroplanes. The reason is that the success of the Airbus A320 is the downward trend of Boeing’s 737 sales. However, both plane types are similar at first glance.
Only a keen eye will notice that the A320 has a bit more rounded nose, while the 737 has a sharp pointed front part. Another noticeable difference is the flight deck windows. The ones in Boeing planes slant downwards, while Airbuses are straighter and more rounded.
The planes have different winglet types to aid their flying. It isn’t easily observable, but those who know about aeroplane technology will see and feel the difference. Boeing uses angular winglets, sometimes referred to as a “split scimitar”. Airbuses use a so-called “sharklet” as they resemble a shark’s fin.
But it’s worth noting that all these visual differences depend on the airlines. There are many variations that the manufacturers make in order to customise their planes for specific flight conditions and airport requirements.
The same goes for passenger comfort, as airlines have different interior requirements. Since A320 is more common for economy airlines, they are often associated with discomfort. But it’s hard to blame Airbus, as they simply fulfil what airlines order.
The number of passengers each plane can carry depends on its subtype. Generally, Boeing 737s carry from 153 to 204 travellers, while most Airbus A320s have a capacity of around 200 passengers.
Under the hood, the Boing planes typically have a more powerful engine. Most 737s today run on CFM International LEAP engines, while some A320s come with Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines.
Both engines are well suited for long flights of more than 5000 kilometres. However, the LEAP engines of Boeing reportedly have more efficient fuel management in such flights.
Is there any room for other competitors?
All these technical details show that the best-selling planes from both manufacturers are quite similar. It applies to their exterior, interior, engines, and wings. For a long time, Boeing was a go-to choice as it was better priced when you consider all the additional features airlines need to order.
However, in 2022 Airbus sold significantly more aeroplanes than Boeing. The reason was not innovations or lower prices but the two tragic accidents in which Boeing 737 was involved.
Unfortunately, it didn’t result in new manufacturers significantly stepping up their products. It shows that there still isn’t much room for new competitors to enter the market.
The competition between Boeing and Airbus is healthy, considering it’s a massive leap forward for the European aircraft industry. They have become strong competitors for the US.
The downside is that such a duopoly doesn’t encourage innovations and the creation of new manufacturers. It results from past mergers and the similarities between Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.
Alicia Saxon, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.