After the latest news about Boeing disasters, one does wonder if these aircraft are as safe as they say. While airbus has had an incredible run these last years, Boeing has had to overcome many obstacles. Most notably the grounding of the 737MAX. This bears the question, is Airbus safer than Boeing?

To answer your question: no, Airbus is not safer than Boeing. Neither is Boeing safer than Airbus. Both companies have to achieve the highest standards of aircraft safety for international certification. While Boeing may have had big issues that grounded its 737MAX aircraft, all the other Boeing aircraft were perfectly fine to fly.

Let’s dive in and analyse both companies and try to understand them better and know who has a better safety record.

Saftey Records of Airbus and Boeing

We have to take into account that Boeing aircraft are much older than Airbus aircraft. Which in turn means they will have more safety incidents.

The aviation industry has completely transformed in the last 40 years. Back in the last century, accidents were more frequent as the regulation and certifications were not as strict as nowadays. Bear in mind, that aviation technology was also still developing.

As we can see from the graph below, accidents with fatal crashes were far more frequent during that time.

data fatalities
Plane models against fatalities

Don’t get fooled by this graph. The Boeing 747 has a more fatality count than any other aircraft, but that does not mean that this aircraft is less safe than other aircraft like the Airbus A300. The B747 has been flying more time than any other jet-liner and, just because of its longevity, has found itself in many different situations that made the plane crash.

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Also, the Boeing 747 is one of the biggest aircraft in the world. This airplane can carry more than 500 passengers! This in turn means that any accident in this aircraft, unfortunately, would cause a higher fatality count than any other jetliner.

If we account for seat capacity and  service time we can obtain the next graph:

data fatal accident rate
Accident rate of aircraft

Because the Boeing B737-8 MAX is very new and it does not have a strong service time, its accident rate is much higher than, for example, the Boeing B747.

Taking into account all the info from above, we can create a graph with fatal accidents per every thousand years of service.

data manufacturer 1
Fatal accidents per thousand years of service

And thus, as you can see, the differences between Airbus and Boeing are insignificant. And that is why Airbus is as safe as Boeing.

Embraer, with its fleet of aircraft that do not carry many passengers and the fact that they haven’t encountered many major catastrophic accidents: Embraer is, by contrast, safer than any other manufacturer.

Short History of Airbus and Boeing

Airbus and Boeing have had control of the airliners market since the 90s. This monopoly of the market has made the two companies very aggressive towards each other.

Airbus is a big merger between some European aviation industry companies. This merger started initially between big French and German companies such as DASA and Aerospatiale-Matra.

Boeing on the other hand started as an engineer-centred company and bought and absorbed McDonnell Douglas in 1997.

Both companies accused each other during their competition peak of unfair trading practices. Airbus and Boeing accused each other of receiving state money aid from their own governments, which is unfair trading under WTO law.

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The main products that both companies have are the Airbus A320 and the Boeing B737. In the last years, Airbus has won a lot of ground against Boeing, becoming the biggest aircraft manufacturer in 2019. This was mainly due to the Boeing 737MAX grounding. Don’t forget the Concorde!

Airbus also has won a lot of the market thanks to the introduction of advanced technology in their aircraft. Advances like composite materials and automated functions made the Airbus A320 a very likeable option for Airlines all around the world.

In the last years, both companies have invested in creating the most fuel-efficient aircraft due to the ongoing climate crisis.

Also, Airlines have pushed both manufacturers to new limits. SouthWest Airlines which is the airline with the most Boeing B737 in operation, pressured Boeing in creating a new generation of B737 to compete with the A320neo.

State Trade Wars Airbus vs Boeing

Both the US and the EU governments have strong links with both Boeing and Airbus respectively. The interests of the EU and US are clearly shown by backing each manufacturer. In fact, Airbus is partially state-owned by mainly France (11%), Germany (11%) and Spain (4%).

The fierce competition between both companies raised a trade war between them.

Back in 2006, the US filed a lawsuit against the EU and Airbus with regards to subsidies given to the company. The subsidies, that the US claims are against fair competition, were worth around $22bn.

In 2010, the WTO gave a verdict confirming that Airbus received around $18bn of subsidies from the EU that were deemed illegal.

Shortly after, the EU filed a counterclaim suit against the US for the same reason: $23bn of illegal subsidies were given to Boeing from the US. Although, in March 2011, the WTO said that nearly 80% of these subsidies were legal.

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The trade war is still ongoing and it does not seem to be nearing its end any time soon.

Future of Airbus and Boeing

The monopoly (duopoly in this case) of Airbus and Boeing as aircraft manufacturers will face new competition in the future, mainly from China and Russia.

The main rivalry is the C919 (China) and MC-21 (Russia) against their counterparts of A320 and B737. Both Russian and Chinese manufacturers have had a hard time with delays and issues in their development during the last years. Nevertheless, both aircraft are nearing their certification to fly commercially. This will definitely make a dent in the market share of Airbus and Boeing.

New technologies from both Airbus and Boeing are being developed to get their hands into new mass markets.

Boeing has been developing HorizonX, a cargo air vehicle to disrupt the air deliveries market. Airbus has been developing aircraft for urban commute such as new electric VTOL, which are small helicopters that act as air taxis.

The main issue that Boeing faces is more problems in the future with the B737MAX. Which could result in a big hit in market share and revenue. We could see many airlines going to the competition to buy the A320neo.

Airbus has several unfair trading countermeasures that the US is proposing. These are still under discussion and could result in an 11bn$ loss and cause great pressure on the financial side of the business.

Another issue that both manufacturers have in common is the climate change pledges all around the world. This pressure is also present in airlines which could lead to new competition entering the market with a better edge in environmental and efficient aircraft.

James Blake

By James Blake

Does it fly? Then I am interested!

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