By Stanley Holmes
A NEW NO. 1? The rise of Airbus also has had an impact on Boeing's commercial-airplane division. For the first time, the European jetmaker will surpass Boeing in deliveries in 2003. Boeing lost the largest plane order in 2002 to Airbus -- up to 240 jets -- from European discount carrier EasyJet, which had previously bought only Boeing. And with United Airlines (UAL ) facing possible Chapter 7 liquidation and American Airlines (AMR ) teetering close to declaring Chapter 11, either outcome could mean more surplus aircraft on the market. That could drive production rates even lower.
What's more, Airbus' order backlog is larger than Boeing's -- 1,487 vs. 1,160 planes -- giving it parity with Boeing for the first time since the European consortium's creation 30 years ago. In fact, many analysts who follow the business believe Airbus is poised to supplant its U.S. rival as the No. 1 maker of commercial jetliners.
Part of the reason is that Airbus has been pumping money into the development of new airplanes, such as its 555-seat A380 mega-