Boeing last year scored its lowest number of orders and deliveries in more than a decade, ceding the crown as the world’s biggest plane maker to rival Airbus as it struggled to contain the fallout from its troubled 737 Max passenger jet.
The US aircraft maker received new orders for 246 aircraft — the lowest number in at least two decades — which fell to a negative 87 after cancellations.
Deliveries of 380 were down by more than half on 2018’s 806, and the lowest since 2008. Before the grounding of the 737 Max, Boeing had been predicting deliveries of between 895 and 905 commercial jets for 2019.
The US aircraft maker could now struggle to retake the lead in orders this year from Airbus, whose popular A320 family of single aisle jets is fast outselling the 737 family.
Airbus earlier this month revealed it had secured net orders for 768 aircraft, against 747 in 2018. Deliveries totalled 863, up from 806 in 2018. The European aircraft maker has a backlog of some 7,482 commercial aircraft, against Boeing’s 5,406.
Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of Teal group, the aviation consultancy, said Boeing’s disappointing order numbers reflected airlines’ enthusiasm for Airbus’ A321neo, a single aisle jet that lets airlines fly point-to-point, reducing their costs while charging customers a premium.
“It’s a magic machine,” he said. “Airbus would be nowhere without that jet, and guess what? Without that jet, Boeing is nowhere too.”
Orders for widebody aircraft from Boeing in 2019, versus 218 the year before
The latest figures were released a day after Boeing’s new chief executive, David Calhoun, took up his post, tasked with addressing the gravest crisis in the aircraft maker’s history. The 737 Max was involved in two fatal crashes in the space of five months, leading to questions over the company’s safety culture. Lawmakers have accused Boeing of rushing to put the Max in the air despite concerns over the design of its anti-stall software, in a bid to compete with the Airbus A320 family.
Once the 737 Max is approved as safe to return to service, Boeing will begin delivering the near 400 aircraft that have been parked since global regulators grounded the aircraft nine months ago. However, analysts warned this would take time, given that the jets would need to go through individual inspection, and airlines would not be able to accept all the ordered aircraft at once.
“It will take Boeing all of this year and most of next year to clear that backlog [of grounded aircraft],” said Rob Stallard, analyst at Vertical Research. The company would also have to manage production and delivery of new jets.
Sash Tusa, of Agency Partners, predicts the delivery of parked aircraft could give Boeing the edge on deliveries in 2020, if the 737 Max’s return goes smoothly and quickly. “Our forecast for Airbus deliveries in 2020 is 933 aircraft. We forecast Boeing to do 978 aircraft. But that assumes the Max returns to service at the very end of the first quarter,” he said.
Meanwhile there were signs that the slowdown in widebody orders was intensifying, with more cancellations than orders for Boeing’s new widebody, the 777X, which is due to enter service next year, in a new headache for Mr Calhoun. Boeing has also signalled it will cut back the production rate of the 787 Dreamliner this year.
Boeing reported a net 96 wide-body orders for 2019, against 218 in the year before, another year in which orders for widebody aircraft were below current deliveries.
“If they were thinking of all other things the new chief executive should be seriously looking at, it is the 787 rate and what to do with 777X,” Mr Stallard said.