Boeing began 2021 by delivering 26 airplanes in January while its order backlog, which shrank dramatically last year, shrank once again — but only by 13 jets.
That’s relatively stable compared to the precipitous collapse of orders in 2020, not only for the 737 MAX but also for the giant 777X.
A fast pace of getting parked MAXs ready for airline customers meant Boeing delivered more jets than Airbus last month for the first time since the MAX was grounded. However, deliveries of other Boeing models remain very slow.
Airbus delivered just 21 jets in January. That included only 12 of the A320neo family of jets that is the rival to the MAX.
Boeing’s January deliveries included 21 now-ungrounded 737 MAXs. Southwest took six of those, American and United five each, and Alaska two. The other three went to Copa of Panama and Gol of Brazil.
At least 13 of those came from the store of MAXs that were built earlier and had been parked during the grounding of the plane. Boeing declined to disclose how many, if any, were newly built and rolled off the Renton assembly line.
As Boeing indicated on its last earnings call, it is still struggling to inspect and fix all the widebody 787 Dreamliners that have been rolling out with potential quality defects at the fuselage joins. For the third consecutive month, none were delivered in January. Boeing said “few, if any” will be delivered this month.
Boeing’s other deliveries last month were a 737-based P-8 military jet to the Navy for hunting submarines, one 767 freighter to FedEx, one 777 freighter to China Airlines of Taiwan, and two 777-300ER passenger jets to aircraft lessor Novus Aviation Capital of Dubai.
The end of the 747 is in sight
On the sales front in January, the MAX order book shrank a little more and Boeing clarified the few remaining orders for the 747.
Customers canceled orders for two MAXs in January and a further 11 were removed from the backlog because the orders are now considered too doubtful to count, due to lack of customer financing.
At the end of January, the official 737 MAX order backlog was down to 3,202 aircraft. In stark contrast, the Airbus backlog for the rival A320neo family of jets stood at 5,822 aircraft.
Airbus booked no new orders and had no cancellations last month. At month-end, its total order backlog for all models stood at 7,163 aircraft.
Boeing’s total backlog stood at 4,016 aircraft. The huge difference is largely due to the 3,000 unfilled orders for the A321neo — a large capacity, long-range, single-aisle jet to which Boeing has no competitive response.
Last month’s order activity also cleared up how long production of the 747 jumbo jet will continue.
In January, cargo carrier Atlas Air took over the orders for four 747-8 freighters that became available after Volga-Dnepr of Russia, which hadn’t the funds to purchase the jets, canceled orders for them.
While that doesn’t change the size of the 747 order book, it finally clarifies the endgame for the airplane.
Now exactly 11 of the jets remain to be delivered at a crawling production rate of one every two months. Atlas said it will take the last one off the line in October next year.
That’s 54 years after the first one rolled out in Everett in 1968, from what was then a new assembly building built just for the 747.
That will end an era when this plane — designed and built by a team dubbed “The Incredibles” and led by famed engineer Joe Sutter — signified the height of Boeing’s dominance of commercial airplane manufacturing.
In addition to the Volga-Dnepr 747 cancellations and the MAX cancellations in January, Royal Jordanian also canceled an order for one 787-8 Dreamliner.
The full extent of the 2020 hit to Boeing’s order book only became clear at the end of January, when a financial filing revealed that 118 orders for the forthcoming 777X, 38% of the total, had been removed at the end of last year because the orders were at risk of falling through.
With international long-haul travel not expected to recover fully before 2023 at the earliest, delivery of the 777X has been delayed until then and its near-term future is in doubt.
However, on Tuesday Singapore Airlines announced an agreement with Boeing that offers the 777X a ray of hope. In 2017, Singapore helped launch the 777X with an order for 20 Boeing 777-9Xs as well as 19 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners. The first 777X was at that time expected to be delivered to Singapore in 2021.
With its long-haul business collapsed for now, Singapore has done a deal to defer all those deliveries beyond 2023. And it has swapped out 14 of the 787-10 orders, replacing them with an extra 11 orders for the 777-9X.
In terms of aircraft cash value, that’s a wash. But it’s a big boost to the 777X that Singapore clearly sees a future for it, even though it’s further out than Boeing would like.
Separately, a Southwest Airlines regulatory filing on Monday revealed some financial details related to the 737 MAX.
Southwest stated it expects to take just 28 MAXs this year, 19 direct from Boeing and another 9 from lessors. Boeing won’t get much cash for those MAXs, however.
The airline said its cash outlay for the MAX purchases this year will be “immaterial” as a result of credits for future payments provided in a compensation agreement with Boeing as well as advance payments previously made on undelivered MAXs.
In additional compensation for the grounding of the MAX, Boeing paid Southwest $428 million in cash last year, the filing states.