Airbus taking flight but Boeing bouncing back

Europe’s Airbus looks set to push arch-rival Boeing to its lowest market share ever in the annual battle for global aircraft sales.

Airbus is on course to end 2011 with well over 1,600 orders after enjoying an unchallenged position in the market for small, fuel-efficient passenger planes.

Boeing, by contrast, has 894 orders so far this year and would have to clinch a further 180 sales to claim even 40 per cent of the market.

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However, analysts expect the American giant to rebound strongly in the early months of next year as it brings out a rival to Airbus’ A320neo. The jazzed-up version of the 150-seat A320 jetliner has been in demand thanks to the 12-15 per cent fuel savings it offers due to new engines.

Boeing slumped behind Airbus in the 2011 race as it hesitated over whether to match the Neo or build a more ambitious new aircraft at the expense of near-term sales. It chose the first option by launching the 737 Max, which already has almost 800 provisional contracts waiting to be confirmed.

The American company also stuck close to its rival in value terms after a record slew of more than 200 orders for its 777 “mini-jumbo”.

The two companies are preparing for a major battle over a $16 billion (£10.2bn) order for some 180 aircraft from United Airlines in the first quarter, including possibly 130 of the latest generation of revamped 150-seaters. Both aircraft makers are also expected to push hard over the holiday season to complete aircraft deliveries for 2011.