Boeing delivered only seven commercial jets in November, just one of them a passenger plane. Data released Tuesday shows the deliveries included no 737 MAXs and no 787 Dreamliners.
Following Federal Aviation Administration clearance in mid-November for the MAX to fly again, deliveries of the 737 are expected to resume this week. The first will go to United Airlines.
The more surprising lack of any 787 deliveries was due to both the pandemic-driven downturn in air travel and manufacturing quality problems that have required painstaking inspections of every aircraft rolled out, creating a buildup of parked and undelivered Dreamliners.
Boeing also last month lost a net total of 28 more orders after cancellations, conversions and adjustments for orders from distressed airlines that are unlikely to be filled.
That included 63 net MAX order cancellations. However, because 33 of those had previously been removed from the backlog because airline bankruptcies during the pandemic made them too dubious to count as firm orders, the net reduction in the official MAX backlog was just 30 orders.
Through November, the MAX order backlog had shrunk this year by 1,068 jets.
That’s not counting Ryanair’s order last week for 75 Boeing 737 MAXs, which was booked in December. With that order, the MAX backlog may rise this month for the first time in 2020.
The November order tally includes the cancellation of 48 MAXs for Virgin Australia, which went into bankruptcy proceedings, but which announced early Tuesday that it has salvaged some of its position by placing a new order for 25 of the larger model MAX 10s — for a net loss of 23 orders. (The original order was for 38 MAX 8s and 10 MAX 10s.)
In addition, during November the Los Angeles-based aircraft lessor Air Lease Corp canceled orders for 13 MAXs, Air Canada canceled 10 and unidentified customers canceled a further 17.
At the end of November, Boeing’s total 2020 order tally for all commercial aircraft models stood at negative 1,048 orders. That included a new order last month for two 767-based air refueling tankers for the Japanese military.
Boeing’s seven deliveries in November included two P-8 submarine-hunter military versions of the 737, four large widebody freighter jets and a single 777-300ER passenger plane for Dubai-based lessor Novus Capital.
That brought Boeing deliveries in the first 11 months of the year to 118 jets.
Airbus also had no new orders in November and it had 11 orders cancelled, all of which were for the small Canadian-built A220 jets.
The European planemaker delivered 64 jets — all of them passenger aircraft — bringing its total deliveries in the first 11 months of the year to 477 aircraft.
The Airbus deliveries included two A220s and 54 in the A320 aircraft family, the competitor to Boeing’s 737.
Airbus delivered eight of the big widebody jets used on international long-haul routes: one A330-900neo and seven larger A350s.
At the end of November, the Airbus backlog of still-to-be-delivered aircraft stood at 7,302 jets. Its A320neo family, the direct rival of the Boeing 737 MAX family, had a backlog of 5,904 jets.
In comparison, Boeing’s total backlog stood at 4,240 jets. And the total backlog for the MAX was 3,290 jets.
While the COVID downturn in air travel is depressing all plane deliveries, especially widebody jets for long-haul routes, manufacturing quality problems at its South Carolina and Utah plants have added to Boeing’s problems with 787 deliveries.
In North Charleston, South Carolina, two manufacturing defects discovered at the join in the aft fuselage have the potential to compromise the jet’s structural integrity and so require intensive inspections and repair work.
In Salt Lake City, another manufacturing quality issue with the assembly of the airplane’s horizontal tail has resulted in the need to inspect hundreds of 787s already in service as well as those in production.
Speaking at the Credit Suisse industrials conference on Friday, Greg Smith, Boeing executive vice president and chief financial officer, said it’s taken “longer than we previously anticipated” to inspect all the airplanes for these potential defects.
As a result of both the slow inspection process and the COVID-related travel restrictions affecting international air travel, Smith said, “We’ve got a large number of undelivered 787 aircraft in inventory.”
More than 70 completed Dreamliners now await delivery, according to a comprehensive online tally updated monthly by Uresh Sheth.
Smith said Friday it could take “through 2021” to clear that backlog of parked 787s.
In October, with 787 demand low, Boeing made the decision to consolidate final assembly in South Carolina. It said then it will close the line in Everett by mid-2021 and reduce the rate from 10 to six jets per month.
On Friday, Smith reduced expectations further. He said that during the transition the production rate will be reduced below 10 per month and by mid-2021 will be cut to just five jets per month.
That makes a ramp-up of 737 MAX deliveries critical for Boeing’s cash generation in the months ahead.