Boeing airplane orders and deliveries ticked upward in March as the 737 MAX’s return to service gained momentum and some airlines flying the airplane began to look toward a possible recovery from the pandemic downturn.
Sales data released Tuesday shows the planemaker recorded positive net orders for just the second month in a row, after more than a year of order cancellations.
And Boeing delivered 29 commercial jets in March, including the first 787 Dreamliner deliveries since October.
Boeing won 40 net orders in the month, bringing its net total for the year to 76 airplanes.
This is in contrast to archrival Airbus, which in February and March had a total of 100 jet orders canceled, bringing its net order tally for the year down to minus 61 airplanes.
While Airbus is experiencing the negative impact of the pandemic-driven airline downturn, clearly Boeing is getting an offsetting sales boost from the MAX’s return to service.
However, as positive as March’s data is, this week’s news that more than 60 MAXs are temporarily grounded after discovery of an electrical system flaw will certainly slow Boeing’s momentum.
Hundreds of both orders and cancellations
The U.S. jetmaker won 162 new orders and had 122 orders canceled in March. All of those were 737 MAXs except for 11 anti-submarine P-8s ordered, nine for the U.S. Navy and two for the Royal Australian Air Force.
In addition, United changed a contract for 25 MAXs to move up delivery of the airplanes, and Alaska did the same for 9 MAXs on its order book.
A Boeing official attributed its sales performance to some airlines making strategic investments to position for the recovery and a return to growth.
Still, Boeing is not escaping the pandemic’s impact.
The canceled firm orders included 50 MAXs for Turkish Airlines, 26 MAXs for Hong Kong-based aircraft lessor CALC, 16 MAXs for the airplane leasing unit of China Development Bank, 6 MAXs for General Electric’s airplane leasing unit GECAS, and 3 MAXs for L.A.-based Air Lease Corp.
In total, 156 MAX orders have been canceled this year.
In addition, 14 MAXs were withdrawn from the order backlog because the contracts are no longer solid enough due to lack of customer financing.
Those 14 airplanes withdrawn, along with 19 MAX deliveries in March, counterbalanced the 29 net new MAX orders for the month to nudge the total MAX backlog slightly lower to 3,192 airplanes.
While Boeing had to take those 14 MAXs out of its official backlog, in another positive development it was able to add back in 15 orders for widebody 777Xs and one for a 787 that had previously been too tenuous to include, either because the airline’s credit was reassessed or a contract was renegotiated.
Boeing said the official 777 backlog now stands at 263, comprising 228 of the forthcoming 777X model and 35 of the older 777s.
The order backlog for all Boeing jet models is now 4,054 airplanes.
Because Airbus gained almost 3,000 jet sales over Boeing in the single-aisle jet market during the MAX crisis, its total order backlog stands at 6,998 aircraft.
Dreamliner deliveries slowly resume
Of the 29 jet deliveries last month, 19 were MAXs. Three others were 737-based P-8 military planes, two for the U.S. Navy and one for the Indian Navy.
Boeing also delivered seven widebody aircraft.
Two 787-9s were delivered from Boeing South Carolina to United, while two 777-300ERs went to Dutch airline KLM. In addition, cargo carrier UPS took a 747-8F jumbo jet freighter and FedEx took two 767F freighters.
Those two 787s mark the resumption of Dreamliner deliveries after a more than four-month hiatus due to defects discovered at the joins of the carbon composite fuselage sections.
Boeing has had to park more than 80 completed Dreamliners pending inspection for the defects and reworking of the planes as needed. Getting all those back in the air is expected to take many months.
Airbus last month delivered 72 airplanes, including 57 in the A320neo family that competes with the MAX. Airbus also delivered four of its smaller A220s and three classic A320s, as well as eight widebody A350s.
The March data shows Boeing delivered a total of 77 commercial jets in the first quarter of the year, including just 14 widebody jets.
In the same period, Airbus delivered 125 commercial jets, including just 11 widebodies.