Boeing finished 2021 far behind European rival Airbus in deliveries of new aircraft, but sales bounced back after two dismal years caused by the 737 Max crashes and the pandemic.
Boeing said Tuesday that it delivered 38 commercial planes in December and 340 for all of 2021, nearly double the total for 2020.
However, Airbus reported Monday that it made 611 deliveries in 2021, topping Boeing for a third straight year. Boeing was hindered by production flaws that prevented shipments of its 787 Dreamliner for most of 2021.
Deliveries are bigger than bragging rights — they are an important source of cash for the companies because airlines typically pay a large portion of the purchase price when they take possession of a new plane.
Boeing also said that orders jumped to their highest level since 2018, before the grounding of the 737 Max and the pandemic caused sales to plummet for two years.
The Chicago company reported landing orders for 80 planes in December and 909 for the full year. After subtracting cancellations, however, Boeing posted 479 net orders, slightly behind the Airbus total of 507.
Boeing reported another 2021 figure of 535 orders by including 56 sales that it once considered unlikely to be completed but now views with more certainty. However, a spokesman said some of those orders were placed in earlier years. Because Boeing and Airbus backlogs are so big, airlines usually have to wait several years to get all the planes they order.
There is no question that the competition between the world's two big aircraft manufacturers has heated up after being lopsided in Airbus' favor for a time.
Boeing scored a coup last week when it landed a big order from Allegiant Air, which currently has an all-Airbus fleet. Last month, it was Airbus raiding Boeing customers by winning commitments for new orders from Air France-KLM and Australia's Qantas.
The accelerating pace of orders at both companies indicates that airlines are confident of strong demand and believe that the pandemic will subside — or travelers will decide to live with the risk of COVID-19 and resume flying anyway.
Neither Boeing nor Airbus gave any insight into how current orders and deliveries will affect their bottom lines.
Boeing will report 2021 financial results on Jan. 26.