With 737 Maxs still grounded, can Boeing and airlines cope with mounting costs and fragile client confidence?
As anniversaries go, it’s one Boeing will have wanted to forget: 10 March marked a year since its 737 Max aircraft was grounded, with no sign it will take to the skies again any time soon.
The tragic Max saga is well-documented; fatal crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 involving Indonesia’s Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines killed 346 people.
Both aircraft plunged to the ground shortly after take-off.
What went wrong is now evident: the Max’s large engines cause it to tip and stall. Software should correct this, but Boeing failed to tell pilots how to use it, and how the Max behaves differently to other 737s.
The Max affair has damaged Boeing substantially; the 737 is the world’s best-selling commercial aircraft, with more than 15,000 manufactured since 1968.
In the UK, it’s the Ford Fiesta of the skies, with the Max consuming 10-15% less fuel than the previous model and carrying around 6% more passengers.
As of January, Boeing had 4,545 unfilled orders, with 387 delivered. Another 418 are stored at Boeing’s factories.
All will need remedial work and will eventually fly, but what does it mean for Boeing, its customers and passengers?
Last month, Boeing reported its first annual loss since 1997 – $636 million – compared with a 2018 profit of $10.5 billion. While Boeing can ride out the disaster, the compensation bills are huge.
The most affected carriers are in China – they had bought 23% of Max aircraft in production as of February. However, US budget carrier Southwest Airlines is the world’s largest Max customer with 280 orders – only 31 of which have been delivered.
It said in December an agreement had been reached with Boeing for part of the $830 million it had to absorb in 2019.