The History of the Airbus vs. Boeing Rivalry

There is no secret to the fact that Airbus and Boeing have long been rivals, offering one another stiff competition in the airplane manufacturing business. They have a long history that has actually served as a benefit to their customers. When one company launches a new and innovative aircraft, the other is not far behind, coming up with new designs and ways to forge ahead in the delivery of commercial aircraft that are a cut above the status quo.

The two dominating forces in the commercial airliner market

Airbus and Boeing divvy up a large share of the global commercial airliner market with a fifty-fifty split on control. These giants in the industry each offer impressive track records for supplying the world with new an innovative aircraft that have changed the way that business and transportation operates. The two supergiants arose as leaders within the past two decades and have consistently engaged in a rivalry to dominate the market.

Boeing’s history

Boeing has been in operation since 1916. It has grown to become an aerospace and defense manufacturer that is the largest exporter of industrial products. During the 1970s period, their biggest rivals were American competitor’s Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas, each offering impressive commercial aircraft and holding their own. Boeing surged ahead with production of the 767-200 which launched in 1978 and entered service just three years later. Airbus was just getting going in 1970 and was not yet an established competitor. Boeing made an acquisition of chief rival McDonnell Douglas in 1997 for the cost of $13 billion.


Airbus is the new kid on the block and just made its appearance on the scene in 1970. Boeing had a huge head start, but the French company would arise to serious competitor status soon. Airbus started in 1967 when a collection of the British, French and German governments united in a joint effort to develop and improve aviation within their respective countries. Other countries were surging ahead and in a bid to keep up, the consortium that was named Airbus was formed with its main headquarters located in Toulouse, France.

The battle begins

With Boeing’s 707 workhorses, and the 747 jumbo jets dominating the skies, Airbus sought to answer these achievements with the creation of the A300B airliner. It wasn’t smooth sailing for Airbus as they encountered multiple issues with finding the right engine as a deal with Rolls Royce’s RB207 fell through. They went with GE and Pratt & Whitney engines. Another issue arose in marketing projections which required the airliner to reduce the passenger load from 300 to 250 seats for effiency. Britain decided to build the wings for the craft in 1968 and with other parts contributions made from consortium members, the first Airbus A300B was sold to Air France with an order of 3 aircraft. When the 250 seat plane was deemed too small, Airbus stretched the A300B1 with an additional 20 Seats and named it the A300B2. The A300B’s maiden flight took place near the end of October in 1972, but it wasn’t a threat to Boeing’s jumbo jet. Airbus could not crack the US market with their Aircraft, although they tried. They were restricted to the South African, European and Asian markets.

Airbus becomes Boeing’s competition in 1978

When Airbus gave Eastern Airlines a free six month trial with four A300s, the Florida carrier liked the experience and placed an order for 23 more craft. Airbus had finally entered the US market. They launched development of the A310 that same year, which offered a longer range. Orders came in from Air France in 1981 for the A320 with 25 requested, followed by JetBlue. Airbus hired Piper’s John Leahy in 1985 to lead their North American sales team and he was named their global head of sales by 1994. He led the company in reaching Boeing customers and poaching them for Airbus orders and under his leadership, Airbus sold over a trillion dollars worth of jet aircraft.

The 1990s were tumultuous

It was early in the 1990s era that Airbus developed a plane that would challenge Boeing’s 747-400. It would take years to design the double-decker A380, but it was a jet that would give the U.S. aircraft a run for its money. The battle was on to win over loyal Boeing customers and Boeing wasn’t taking it lying down. They were crafting their own contracts with various carries on deals that would lock them in as exclusive providers for up to 20 years at a time. The A380 was an imitation of the Boeing 767-400 and was considered to be one of the biggest mistakes that Airbus had made in its history to date. Airbus brokered a trial period for Northwest Airlines and the carrier placed an order for 145 craft. Their A330 model was launched in 1992 and has been their biggest seller. The company experienced multiple setbacks with ups and downs, and among their biggest challenges was Boeing’s signed contracts that excluded them from large segments of the US market.

Final thoughts

The rivalry between Boeing and Airbus continues on today. It’s comparable to Coke vs Pepsi, McDonald’s vs Burger King and many other famous rivalries that exist between entities that are world class forces to be reckoned with. It keeps them both on their toes and producing top-notch products, so in the end the consumer is the winner.

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