Search Penny Hill Press

Monday, August 8, 2011

Challenge to the Boeing-Airbus Duopoly in Civil Aircraft: Issues for Competitiveness

Glennon J. Harrison
Specialist in Industry Policy

The importance of a successful aerospace industry to the United States economy has been repeatedly acknowledged by President Obama and members of his Cabinet, many Members of Congress, and by all concerned with the competitive fortunes of the U.S. aircraft manufacturing industry. The U.S. aerospace industry is highly competitive and global in scope. U.S. firms manufacture a wide range of products for civil and defense purposes and, in 2010, the value of aerospace industry shipments was estimated at $171 billion, of which civil aircraft and aircraft parts accounted for over half of all U.S. aerospace shipments. In 2010, the U.S. aerospace industry exported nearly $78 billion in products, of which $67 billion (or 86% of total exports) were civil aircraft, engines, equipment, and parts. The U.S. trade surplus (net exports) in aerospace products in 2010 was $43.6 billion—higher than for any other manufacturing industry. Aerospace employment totaled 477,000 workers, of which 228,400 were engaged in the manufacture of aircraft, 76,400 in the manufacture of engines and engine parts, and 97,600 in the manufacture of other parts and equipment. According to the International Trade Administration, “more jobs in the United States were supported by exports of U.S. aerospace products than of any other manufacturing or service industry.”

Boeing is the only U.S. manufacturer of large civil aircraft. Civil aircraft engines are manufactured by General Electric (GE), in partnership with Safran (of France), and by Pratt & Whitney. Numerous firms manufacture sections and parts of the airframe, as well as original equipment for both domestic and foreign airframe manufacturers. The civil and military aerospace sectors are complementary in that many firms manufacture products for both. Although the products tend to be dissimilar, workforce skills are transferable, so a decline in military aerospace budgets or private sector spending on civil aircraft have significant economic and competitive effects for the United States.

A major issue for policymakers is whether the United States can sustain its preeminent position in aerospace, given the intentions of numerous foreign manufacturers to enter the small commercial jet aircraft segment by 2016. That segment accounts for nearly half of all commercial aircraft revenues and for more than 60% of commercial aircraft deliveries. It is also the gateway to building larger commercial aircraft. Boeing and Airbus are the sole rivals across all segments of large commercial aircraft manufacturing, but during the next decade both will confront a potentially serious challenge in one of the most important segments of their business, small commercial jets (which are also referred to as narrow-body or single-aisle aircraft). The CEOs of Boeing and Airbus have both agreed that their duopoly over small commercial jets is nearly at an end.

Boeing and Airbus will face competition from government-owned and subsidized firms in Russia and China, as well as companies in Canada, Brazil, and Japan. Several factors will determine the outcome of the coming competition in small commercial jets, including the openness of markets to foreign commercial aircraft and aircraft engines and parts; whether state-owned aircraft manufacturers continue to receive substantial government subsidies; whether the challengers to Boeing and Airbus achieve their goal of building innovative, efficient aircraft that establish excellent safety and service records; whether airlines will buy aircraft from companies that have no track record; and the effect of collaborative partnerships with other aircraft manufacturers and suppliers as a strategy for success. Boeing and Airbus are engaged in a struggle to be the world’s preeminent manufacturer of civil aircraft and both have a depth of resources unmatched elsewhere. The competitive stakes for both companies will be very high during the next decade.

Date of Report: July 25, 2011
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: R41925
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.