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With Epic Backlogs at Boeing and Airbus, Can Business Be Too Good?

Employees assemble Boeing 777 airplanes at the company's facility in Everett, Washington
Employees assemble Boeing 777 airplanes at the company's facility in Everett, WashingtonPhotograph by Mike Kane/Bloomberg

Boeing finished last year with a record order backlog, nearing 5,100 airplanes valued at nearly $400 billion. The company has been inundated with orders for new, more fuel-efficient versions of its top-selling 737 jet, the larger 787 Dreamliner, and the 777 long-haul workhorse. Boeing’s European rival, Airbus, is sitting atop an even larger order book—5,559 airplanes at year’s end—led by its enormously popular A320 family. The backlogs represent more than eight years of assembly work for both companies.

That kind of robust business, however, poses a question both companies have begun to consider: When is an order backlog too big?