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Orders for single-aisle aircraft seem to have recovered.
(The latest figures we have are to the end of May 2016.)

At the end of May there was a new single-aisle aircraft backlog record and a new single-aisle engine order book record. Sales of widebody aircraft and engines haven't done that well so far this year. Aircraft and engine delivery numbers are still down on the same period last year but May did have the second largest number of single-aisle aircraft deliveries in a single month, ever, and the second largest number of single-aisle engine installs. The largest number for both was in December 2014.

May was a good month in terms of single-aisle aircraft orders and it was also a pretty good month in terms of single-aisle engine orders. Airbus took orders for 77 single-aisles during the month and Boeing took orders for 124. For Boeing's 737 MAX it was the best month since November 2014. It was consequently a good month for CFM's LEAP engine program although more LEAP engines were ordered in March. But May was not a good month in terms of widebody orders; one 777, six A350s and 14 widebody engines. It is actually one of those months which do not ever seem to have many widebody orders - only one aircraft was ordered in May last year and two in May 2014 though there were orders for nine in May 2013.

Up until May, aircraft orders had been lagging behind those of last year. At the end of April, for example, fewer aircraft had been ordered than by the end of April 2015 which in turn had fewer than by the end of April 2014, and so on. By the end of May this year though there had been orders for 171 more single-aisle aircraft than in the Jan-May period last year, and nine fewer widebodies. The total intake of 573 aircraft was still lower than the intake in Jan-May 2014 and was considerably lower than the intake by the end of May 2013 when there were orders for 1,020 aircraft. But the point is that it was an improvement.

Airbus' Jan-May single-aisle orders seem to have been slowing. The company took orders for 240 single-aisles in Jan-May 2014, 212 last year and 133 this year. Boeing's single-aisle orders in the same period dropped from 436 in 2014 to 90 last year but went up to 265 this year. So far this year Boeing has sold nearly twice as many single-aisles as Airbus, but half the number of widebodies. By the end of May last year, Airbus had sold more than twice as many single-aisles as Boeing but half the number of widebodies.

What appears to be happening here is that the single-aisle order intake in the early part of each year is slowing but it is important to note that for the last few years, Airbus and Boeing have both taken far more orders in the Second Half than in the First Half. In fact, last year both manufacturers sold twice as many single-aisles in the Second Half than they did in the First Half. In 2014 they both had better second halves but only Airbus had a doubling of single-aisle orders. They have both also taken more widebody orders in the second half of each of the last two years.

There is another point here which is that despite the fact that so far this year Boeing has taken more orders for new aircraft than Airbus, actually over the last 12 months Airbus has done better in both the single-aisle and the widebody segments than the U.S. competitor. Since the start of June last year, Airbus has taken orders for 936 single-aisles while Boeing has taken orders for 841. Airbus has also taken orders for 207 widebodies while Boeing's intake is 171.

In July there is the Farnborough air show and it is not unreasonable to expect that there will be a large number of aircraft order announcements during the week of the show. In 2014 the July order intake came to 791 aircraft and 1,788 large civil jet engines. Market conditions have changed since then, orders have slowed and it seems unlikely that such large numbers will be repeated. However, big orders are announced at these events and the Second Half of this year will probably get off to a good start.

Orders for single-aisle engines have already got off to a good start chiefly because of engine orders for previously ordered aircraft. The total of 1,318 single-aisle engines ordered by the end of May this year works out at roughly 2.8 engines for every single-aisle aircraft ordered, or 14 engines for every five single-aisle aircraft. Roughly the same number of single-aisle engines have been ordered this year as were ordered in the nine months to the end of September last year.

Engines for previously ordered aircraft have become a big factor in the engine order intake; of the 1,552 engines ordered by the end of May, over 600 were for aircraft ordered some time ago. In addition, not all the aircraft ordered so far this year have had associated engine orders. In the month of May, for example, 75 of the 208 aircraft ordered did not have engine selections.

Engine orders for previously ordered aircraft is something that benefits Pratt & Whitney and CFM enormously. They already have huge backlogs but there are still 2,145 single-aisle aircraft without engine selections and over 1,900 of those will, at some point or another, need PurePower or LEAP engines. Another 234 A320ceo Family aircraft will need either CFM56 or V2500 engines. And then there are 237 widebody aircraft without engine selections which the other engine manufacturers will share.

The single-aisle aircraft and engine orders in May did have a positive impact on their respective backlog positions. During the month, the single-aisle aircraft backlog increased by 83 to 10,749 aircraft which is a new high. In addition, the number of single-aisle engines on firm order increased by 62 to a total of 17,208 which is also a new high. The number of widebody engines on firm order dropped by 64 to 4,960 which is the lowest number since October 2014. So, in overall terms, the total number of engines on firm order dropped in May, by two, and the figure of 22,170 engines at the end of April is still the record.

What was very striking about the engine order intake in May was that in addition to 12 Trent XWB engines, two GE90 engines and two CFM56-7BE engines, there were orders for 260 LEAP engines. The LEAP program has had the largest engine order book for some time but the May order intake propelled this program's order book to over 10,100 engines. It is a staggering number of engines. This has helped to take CFM's total order book to 13,444 engines which is 60% of all engines, including widebody engines, on firm order at the end of May. CFM is not in the widebody engine market of course but has a 78% share of the single-aisle engine order book.

So much for engines though. When it comes to the widebody aircraft backlog, things are very different to the single-aisle aircraft backlog. The number of widebodies on backlog fell by 28 in May and the current backlog of 2,596 aircraft is the lowest since the end of June 2014.

The widebody backlog record was set at the end of December 2014 and the current figure is 151 lower than that and 55 lower than the figure at the start of this year.

Boeing has always had a larger widebody backlog than Airbus but the gap between the two manufacturers seems to be narrowing all the time. At the end of May last year, Boeing had nearly 200 more widebodies on backlog order than Airbus. At the start of this year it was 155 more and at the end of May it was a case of 72 more. So the gap has effectively halved in the last five months.

A quick look at the difference between each company's widebody order and delivery numbers shows why this is happening. By the end of May, Airbus had taken orders for 67 widebodies, lost 11 to cancellations and had delivered 42; a net gain of 14. In the same period, Boeing had taken orders for 33 widebodies, had lost four to cancellations, and had delivered 98. This is a net loss of 69. If this sort of attrition continues at Boeing, sooner or later Airbus will have a larger widebody backlog.

Airbus already has the largest single-aisle backlog.


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Philip Abbott,
Editor & Publisher.