Boeing will be happy to see the end of 2019. This year has been one of the most turbulent in the aircraft manufacturers history, with the grounding of the 737 MAX now costing Boeing nearly $10 billion, as per earnings figures released on October 23.
The aircraft manufacturer has come under pressure from many airlines who have felt the effects of the 737 MAX grounding, and the airline has promised a further $5 billion in compensation.
When I spoke to Boeing in August, they were still claiming that the MAX would fly this year, with U.S. carriers continuing to push back their schedules for the grounded aircraft to later in 2019. I claimed at the time that the aircraft would not fly until 2020, and now, although Boeing still won’t confirm as such, it seems that every U.S. carrier also agrees, with all schedules for the jet being pushed back into 2020. Southwest has taken the plane out of their schedules until February at the earliest, and with approval for the plane still not granted, it now seems inevitable that we won’t see the MAX flying commercially until next year.
Boeing has staked their commercial division’s future on the 737 MAX, 787 Dreamliner, and the next-generation 777X. However, Boeing’s troubles have just very quietly got a lot worse. The Dreamliner has been a huge success for airlines, but the manufacturer has just confirmed in their quarterly results that they will be reducing the production of the 787 from 14 to 12 airframes per month. Although this may not seem substantial, the “current global trade environment” has been cited as the reason for the reduction rate of Boeing’s most successful plane that is currently in production.
However, perhaps the most concerning part of Boeing’s latest release relates to the 777X. The aircraft type was intended to not only rival Airbus’ A350 but to subsequently end production of four-engined aircraft like the A380 and even Boeing’s 747. With larger engines, the 777-9 would be the largest twin-engined commercial jet ever with over 400 passengers, but now the program has seemingly hit the buffers.
In Boeing’s Q3 results the airline not only announced the production cut of the 787 Dreamliner, but it has now postponed 777X deliveries from Summer 2020 to 2021. A very unique feature of the aircraft is the incredibly wide wingspan, which led to a design of folding wingtips to allow to aircraft to manoeuvre around airports without widening runways and taxiways. Now, some of the first frames constructed have had their wingtips removed and the aircraft has been quietly moved to storage.
Emirates is one of those airlines that has now seen the first builds of their jets parked. Issues with the world’s largest commercial engine, the GE9X, and recently with the cargo door on the 777X have meant that the aircraft hasn’t even taken its first flight yet, more than four months later than the planned launch at the Paris air show.
It is not yet clear how the delays will affect the largest customer of the 777X and their fleet renewal plans. Emirates have 150 of the aircraft in order.
Singapore Airlines already announced this week that their 777x deliveries would also be delayed by one year, now entering service in 2022.
Even more concerning for Boeing is that another customer, Lufthansa, has moved their firm orders for the aircraft into options. This gives the airline flexibility to not take delivery of the aircraft at all.
With the ongoing 737 MAX issues, reduced production of the 787 and delays to the 777X program, there is not much to be positive about in Boeing’s commercial division. However, even with the manufacturer seemingly in an unprecedented crisis, and with profits falling 95% year-on-year, the airline still managed to pull a profit, with earnings for the first nine months of the year at $229 million versus $7 billion for the same period in 2018.