The bankruptcy of U.K. carrier Monarch Airlines leaves in tatters Boeing’s effort to have the Airbus A320 operator defect to its 737 MAX. An order for 32 MAXs is now dead.
The bankruptcy of U.K. carrier Monarch Airlines leaves in tatters Boeing’s 2014 push to lure the Airbus A320 operator into switching to its 737 MAX.
Monarch’s order for 30 MAXs was first announced with fanfare as a rare defection from Airbus at the Farnborough Air Show that year, though none were ever delivered.
The deal was restructured just a year ago to save the airline. Now it’s dead.
Following what is the U.K.’s biggest-ever airline collapse Oct. 2, the British government is arranging charter flights for the return of 110,000 stranded tourists.
It’s the third failure of a major European carrier in five months, following the collapse of Air Berlin and Alitalia, and highlights the fragility of the ultracompetitive European short-haul airline market.
Monarch had been in a tenuous position right from the start of Boeing’s involvement.
Despite glowing remarks from leaders of both the airline and Boeing at that July 2014 press conference, Monarch was hanging by a thread even then.
Speaking at a conference the following spring, John Luth, chief executive of airline-management consulting firm Seabury Group, told how Monarch was running out of cash that summer and he was brought in as an adviser to help turn it around.
“Monarch had less than eight weeks of cash in late July,” Luth recalled.
Ireland-based airplane lessor AerCap was Monarch’s biggest creditor at the time, and its chief executive, Aengus Kelly, told The Seattle Times in 2015 that he and Boeing were deeply involved in negotiations to save the airline.
“Boeing, I suppose, was placing a bet. AerCap supported it,” said Kelly. “We felt there was a chance Monarch could make it under the new management team.”
The turnaround involved a $200 million sale of the airline to London-based private equity company Greybull Capital, which took a 90 percent stake, and a restructuring that laid off 700 employees, cut pay for the remaining staff, pared the aircraft fleet to get rid of long-haul planes and shed more than $1 billion in liabilities.
As soon as the Greybull acquisition was closed in October 2014, Monarch finalized the announced order, adding two more aircraft to make it 32 MAXs on Boeing’s order book.
The fragile backdrop was never mentioned at Boeing’s Farnborough press conference with Monarch in July.
Instead, Andrew Swaffield, managing director of the Monarch Group, explained how the MAX order represented a reinvention of the airline.
Monarch, which since 1967 had been a charter company flying tourists who booked all-in package holidays to Mediterranean holiday resorts, was transforming into a new low-cost carrier, with scheduled discount flights to those same holiday destinations.
“The 737 MAX 8 is the perfect aircraft to do that with,” Swaffield said.
The new Airbus A320neo was already heavily outselling the 737 MAX, so Boeing must have offered Monarch a bargain price to win the order.
Having an A320 operator buy the MAX instead of the neo was, according to Ray Conner, then head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, “a very big deal” and “a very strong validation” of the MAX.
However, the turnaround didn’t last.
Deadly terrorist attacks in 2015 in Tunisia and in 2016 in Turkey and Egypt severely reduced tourist traffic to those countries and increased competition among low-cost airlines carrying passengers to alternative European resorts in Spain, Portugal and Italy.
The fall of the British pound after the country’s Brexit vote in June last year raised Monarch’s fuel costs, which are priced in dollars.
Last fall, the airline was once again on the brink of financial collapse. When the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority gave the airline a short 12-day extension of its operating license to secure new funding, Boeing joined in talks with Greybull to mount another rescue.
Greybull injected an additional $220 million into Monarch while Boeing restructured the financing of the MAX deal so that the airline could sell the planes to a lessor and lease them back. The first delivery was set for next year.
Boeing still has a healthy backlog of more than 3,900 MAX orders. But with the bankruptcy, its bet on Monarch is lost.