After resuming 787 Dreamliner deliveries in late March and starting to reduce the number of parked airplanes that had built up following a halt of nearly five months, Boeing delivered just two of the jets in May — then halted deliveries again.
The renewed 787 setback has now again frustrated Boeing’s efforts to move beyond the pandemic downturn and take advantage of new demand as air travel slowly recovers. It followed an electrical glitch that temporarily halted 737 MAX deliveries, which resumed in May after a five-week halt.
With the MAX approved for delivery again but the Dreamliner paused, monthly data released Tuesday shows that Boeing delivered just 17 jets in May.
Of those, 10 were 737 MAXs and one a 737-based P-8 anti-submarine jet for the U.S. Navy.
Demand for long-range widebody passenger aircraft that typically fly international routes remains severely depressed by the global travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Only cargo versions of those planes are currently very active.
Boeing delivered six widebody aircraft in May, including the two 787 passenger jets and four freighters: one 747F for UPS, two 767Fs for FedEx and one 777F for FedEx.
European rival Airbus, unaffected by production-quality issues though still dealing with the pandemic, delivered 50 jets in May.
Of those, 41 were from the A320 jet family that competes directly with Boeing’s 737 MAX. Four other aircraft were the smaller, single-aisle A220s.
Airbus lacks a current freighter to compete against the Boeing cargo models. But in May it delivered five larger widebody passenger jets: one A380 superjumbo, one A330neo and three A350s.
Through the end of May, Airbus has delivered 220 jets this year, almost double Boeing’s total of 111 jets.
Orders firm up a little
On the sales front, Boeing registered its fourth consecutive month of positive net orders, booking a total of 20 net orders in May.
These consisted of orders for six 777 freighters from an unidentified customer and a new order made public Tuesday for 34 additional MAXs for Southwest.
That brings Southwest’s total MAX order book to 415 aircraft.
Some airlines also restructured or canceled orders in May, and some picked up “white tail” airplanes — cheap airplanes, mostly 737 MAXs, that a previous customer had abandoned. These transactions didn’t add to the official order backlog.
Lufthansa, for example, ordered five “white tail” 787-9 Dreamliners last month, while Boeing’s data shows the original orders for those five planes were canceled in May.
For the year, Boeing has booked net orders through the end of May totaling 97 aircraft.
In addition, Boeing also recategorized a number of orders that previously were considered too dubious to include in the official backlog because the airlines that ordered the jets were in financial trouble.
Some were formally canceled. For example, Boeing canceled 14 of the 92 MAXs it has in its order book for Norwegian, which is struggling to get out of bankruptcy. Others were reinstated as firm orders when the airline customer secured financing.
The combination of the 20 net new orders, plus a total of 73 net orders reinstated as firm, minus 17 airplanes delivered, meant Boeing’s firm order backlog increased by 76 aircraft in May and so stands at 4,121 airplanes.
While Airbus is way ahead of Boeing in production and deliveries, it is struggling to win orders.
The European jet maker added a total of just 4 net orders in May, for two A320neos and two widebody A350s.
And with more cancellations this year than new orders, the Airbus 2021 order tally remains negative through May, and now stands at negative 31 orders.
The Airbus order backlog at the end of May was 6,933 aircraft.
The original halt to 787 deliveries last year followed Boeing’s discovery that the automated machinery that fabricates the 787 fuselage sections produced planes with potential defects at the joins. About 100 completed 787s accumulated on the ground between early October and late March.
Boeing developed a system of inspection and repair for the airplanes and resumed deliveries in March after receiving approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Then, after the FAA came back to Boeing seeking further data to assess the inspection and repair protocol, and in particular the statistical sampling that was used to justify it, Boeing stopped deliveries again as it awaited final approval.
The jet maker delivered just 13 Dreamliners since the resumption before stopping again.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun, speaking last week at a conference convened by Bernstein Research, said that “the FAA rightfully wants to know more about the analytics and process controls that we put in place which are different than the ones we had previously.”
“They have questions about the approach that we took, not objections just questions,” Calhoun said.
Apparently referring to Boeing’s shifting interactions with the FAA and the harder edge to winning regulatory approval, Calhoun added that this is “going to create some instability. Probably, I hope that’s measured in months and not longer than a calendar year.”
The MAX and the Dreamliner are the two Boeing airplanes most in demand, the two it needs to deliver in some volume to regenerate its cash flow. After two solid years of bad news, the stuttering deliveries of both are holding up any recovery.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported a detail of the Lufthansa order for five 787 “white tails.” The German carrier did not cancel a previous 787 order at the same time.