Boeing Reveals the Secret Identity of Its Biggest Buyer

Boeing's 737, the once and future king of airplane sales. Photo:Boeing.

Earlier this month, Boeing revealed the sale of 61 single-aisle 737 commercial airliners (51 orders placed this year, and 10 orders in 2014) to just one single buyer -- a massive order worth upwards of $6.6 billion at list prices. What Boeing didn't say, however, was who exactly was anteing up all this dough -- leaving the question of who is responsible for as much as 77% of Boeing's net 737 sales so far this year shrouded in mystery.

Last week, though, Boeing lifted the cone of silence. Confirming that its secret buyer is Panama's Copa Airlines , Boeing also noted that Copa will become the first airline to operate Boeing's 737 MAX 9 on "deep South American routes."

Updating the numbersSo now we know. And knowing the details on Copa's purchase, we can now update Boeing's progress in the 2015 plane race for you, and put it in context against archrival Airbus' performance. To wit, to date, through mid-April, Boeing has booked a total of 117 "gross" orders for its planes. These include:

  • 71 orders for 737s
  • 35 for the 787 "Dreamliner"
  • seven 777s
  • three 747 jumbo jets, and...
  • one single solitary order for a 767 widebody.

Minus six cancellations (five 737s and a single 787), this leaves Boeing with a net order book of 111 commercial aircraft for calendar year 2015. So how does that compare to Airbus?

The view from EuropeAs luck would have it, Airbus also recently updated investors on its order book (albeit only through the end of March -- Airbus issues its updates monthly). And in this report, we see Airbus first eking out a small win over Boeing in the orders race, and then promptly losing it.

Through the end of March, Airbus has booked orders for:

  • 87 single-aisle A320 and A321 aircraft
  • 34 larger A330 aircraft, and...
  • That's it. No A350s or A380s have been sold to-date.

That brings Airbus up to 121 gross plane orders year-to-date (10 more than Boeing). Unfortunately, Airbus is continuing to lose orders to cancellation at a faster rate than is Boeing. Twenty cancellations so far this year leaves the European planemaker with just 101 net new orders for the year -- 10 fewer than Boeing.

What it means to investorsGranted, April is still early in the game. There's still two-thirds of the year to play out, and historically, the early months of any year have slow sales months for both Boeing and Airbus. But even so, by this time last year, Boeing had already booked 280 gross orders for its aircraft (235 net of cancellations). This suggests that 2015 might not be quite so boffo a year for Boeing bookings as 2014.

For its part, Airbus is actually neck-and-neck with its performance of a year ago. Through March 2014, the company had booked 158 gross orders and suffered 55 cancellations -- and thus netted 103 new orders. That's almost precisely where it sits today. And given how well 2014 turned out for Airbus, this may not be such a bad position for Airbus to be in at all.

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Fool contributorRich Smithdoes not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handleTMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 353 out of more than 75,000 rated members.The Motley Fool recommends Copa Holdings. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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