Boeing’s Net Commercial Plane Orders Drop for First Time in Decades

The fallout from the 737 Max crisis continues to bedevil Boeing, with the firm announcing its commercial airplane operations lost orders in 2019, marking the first time in decades that the planemaker has taken this type of hit to its business.

The company has been in turmoil after two crashes, five months apart and both involving the Max, killed 346 people.

Boeing released figures on Tuesday that showed a net loss of 87 plane orders—meaning that more orders were cancelled than were placed. The company also posted the lowest numbers for plane deliveries in 11 years, losing the top spot to its European rival Airbus for the first time in eight years.

Airbus, by comparison, said earlier this month it racked up a net 768 orders last year after cancellations and delivered a record 863 planes.

Still, Boeing ended 2019 with a commercial airplane backlog of 5,406 planes, representing years of future production.

The numbers show that with a net loss of 183 orders, the 737 Max was responsible for the biggest drop.

boeing airbus
Chart comparing Boeing and Airbus across deliveries, net orders, and the ratio of orders to deliveries. (Boeing and Airbus/ Dominic Roshan/Reuters)

‘Challenging Time’

The 737 Max was grounded mid-March of last year following the air disasters, which involved an Indonesian airliner and an Ethiopian jet.

Investigators believe the crashes were caused when the planes’ new automated flight-control system inadvertently pushed the planes’ noses down.

Boeing is still struggling to fix the software and get the plane back in service. Last month, the firm fired its CEO and announced it was suspending production of the Max.

A Boeing 737 Max being built for Norwegian Air International taxis
A Boeing 737 Max being built for Norwegian Air International taxis for a test flight, at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Washington, on Dec. 11, 2019. (Ted S. Warren, /AP/File)

Getting the plane back in service is a key aim for new Boeing chief Dave Calhoun, described by the company’s board as “the right leader to navigate Boeing through this challenging time in our 104-year legacy.”

In an email sent to Boeing employees, the incoming CEO noted the “painful” lessons of the past 18 months, vowing greater transparency and “holding ourselves accountable to the highest standards of safety and quality.”

Calhoun said returning the Max to service would be his key objective.

“This must be our primary focus,” he wrote. “This includes following the lead of our regulators and working with them to ensure they’re satisfied completely with the airplane and our work, so that we can continue to meet our customer commitments. We’ll get it done, and we’ll get it done right.”

Analysts estimate that Boeing has been losing around $1 billion a month because of the grounding and the company reported an almost $3 billion negative free cash flow in the third quarter.

The aeronautics giant is due to report fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 29 and said earlier it is considering raising more debt.

Credit Rating Agency Moody’s said it had placed Boeing’s A3 senior unsecured credit rating under review for a possible downgrade.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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