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Airbus Overtakes Boeing

The European manufacturer delivered more than 300 planes in 2003, surpassing the longtime American leader. Good products and management are behind the success, an industry analyst said.


Airbus parent EADS is also gaining ground.

The aircraft industry was hit hard by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But Airbus is showing that there are still ways to get ahead. The European manufacturer delivered more than 300 planes in 2003, surpassing Boeing, the long-time leader, which made just 281 planes.

There are many reasons for the Airbus success. “They have worked well, have good products and a good client structure,” said Nils Machemehl, an industry analyst at M.M. Warburg, adding that the main reason Boeing lost its top position is that its products are too old.

Airbus and Boeing remain competitive in the so-called narrow body airplanes (those with just one aisle) that are used almost exclusively for short-haul flights, according to Machemehl. But Airbus leads with the long-haul machines such as the A 330 and A 340, which are more modern than Boeing’s models.

Only the 777 is competitive

“With the 777, Boeing has just one modern product in this segment,” Machemehl said. “The 767 and 747 are outdated models.”

Even the defence industry, which has long been dominated by U.S. firms, may soon be dominated by Europe. The Airbus parent company EADS, the European Aeronautic Defence Company, is competitive in three out of four defence industry segments.

Machemehl said EADS is competitive in fighter planes, rockets and satellites. The best-known EADS project is the Eurofighter plane. EADS is also building a military satellite system for Britain.

EADS lags when it comes to military transport planes

Only when it comes to military transport planes does EADS lag behind the American competition.

The market for aircraft is not expected to change significantly in 2004 for either Airbus or Boeing. The industry is still experiencing a downturn and needs time for consolidation, the German head of Airbus said in a recent interview. Hopes for growth lie mainly with the discount airlines. Growth in this market could help compensate for the decline of the traditional airlines, Machemehl said.

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