For the first time in decades, Boeing’s commercial airplane business lost orders over the course of an entire year, a stark example of just how much the 737 Max crisis has hurt the company.
For all of 2019, Boeing lost orders for 87 commercial airplanes, meaning it had more cancellations than new purchases, the company said Tuesday. The final tally included the cancellation of three orders in December when customers changed plans to buy 787 Dreamliners.
A Boeing spokesman said he wasn’t sure when the company last lost commercial plane orders for the year, but “it definitely has not happened in the last 30 years.”
The negative number is especially painful when compared with European rival Airbus, which logged orders for 768 new planes for 2019.
Even with 2019 being a slightly down year for Airbus, its order backlog remains a robust 7,482 commercial airplanes — an amount equal to almost 10 years worth of production. Boeing ended 2019 with a commercial airplane backlog of 5,406 planes.
In December, Boeing failed to log any 737 Max orders as airlines and aircraft leasing companies continued to steer clear of the grounded airplane. For the year, the 737 Max order book fell by 182 planes in 2019, with a hefty percentage of those cancellations due to the bankruptcy of Vietjet Air, a low-cost carrier out of Vietnam that went out of business.
By comparison, Airbus racked up orders for 654 A320 aircraft, its popular single-aisle competitor to the Max.
Boeing’s 737 Max has been grounded since mid-March of last year. Getting the plane back in service is a primary focus of new Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun.
In an email sent to all Boeing employees on Monday, Calhoun said returning the Max to service is a top priority. “We’ll get it done, and we’ll get it done right,” he wrote in his email.
When Boeing will see a rebound in orders depends largely on when the Max is recertified by the Federal Aviation Administration. Calhoun has not said when he expects that to happen, though many airlines believe there is a reasonable chance the latest version of the 737 is back in service this spring.
Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have the Max returning to their schedules in early April while United plans to resume flying the plane in early June. However, all three airlines have shifted their schedules several times since parking their 737 Max planes and readily admit their current plans could change again.
Due to the Max grounding, Boeing delivered 380 commercial airplanes in 2019, the lowest level since 2007. The number is less than half the 768 planes Airbus delivered last year, a record for the European jet-maker.
— CNBC’s Meghan Reeder contributed to this report.
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