Boeing timetable unclear, despite first 737 MAX order since crash

Deliveries of troubled plane halve and net orders plummet, as regulators continue their safety review in both US and EU.

An aerial photo shows Gol Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing facilities at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake
Boeing 737 MAX aircraft belonging to Gol Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines sit on the tarmac at Boeing facilities within the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake in the US state of Washington [File: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters]

In September, Boeing Co secured the first new order in several months for one of its grounded 737 MAX planes, the United States-based company said on Tuesday, as it reported total deliveries for the first nine months of 2019 that were just half those reported a year ago.

Regulators grounded the 737 MAX worldwide following a second fatal crash in March that killed all 157 people on board an Ethiopian Airlines plane. Boeing is fighting to get the jet back in service this year.

The company said on Tuesday that an unidentified business jet customer had ordered one 737 MAX jet.

Boeing deliveries fell 47 percent to 302 aircraft in the first nine months of 2019. Deliveries totaled 26 aircraft in September, down from 87 a year earlier.

Having delivered 806 aircraft in 2018, Boeing was targeting 900 aircraft deliveries this year – prior to the MAX grounding.

Meanwhile, Boeing’s net order tally – including cancellations – was a negative 84 for the first nine months of 2019. That figure was also hit by the bankruptcy of India’s Jet Airways, which resulted in Boeing removing 210 aircraft from its order backlog.

European rival Airbus, in contrast, has 127 net orders this year and is within reach of its full-year goal of 880 to 890 deliveries, despite some factory snags.

‘Coordinated return to service’

US and European Union regulators said on Tuesday they are still reviewing Boeing’s changes to 737 MAX software, throwing into question the speed at which the grounded aircraft can realistically return to service.

Boeing has repeatedly said it hopes to resume flights in 2019’s fourth quarter, which began October 1.

The ongoing safety review means that a key 737 MAX certification test flight is unlikely to take place before November, two sources said.

Aviation regulators sought to play down talk of transatlantic divisions over safety changes to the 737 MAX, which was grounded after two crashes killed 346 people within five months.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement that it has a “transparent and collaborative relationship” with other civil aviation authorities as it continues its 737 MAX safety review, while its EU counterpart said it was in “continuous contact” with both the FAA and Boeing.

“We do not at this stage have any specific concerns resulting from that assessment that would mean that we could not agree to a coordinated return to service. We are in continuous contact with both the FAA and Boeing,” a European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) spokesperson said by email.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told Reuters News Agency in September that the FAA would need about a month following the yet-to-be-scheduled certification test flight before the planes could return to service.

The FAA reiterated on Tuesday that it does not have a firm date for completing its review.

Southwest Airlines Co is scheduling operations without the 737 MAX until at least early January, pending regulatory approval for commercial flight. American Airlines Group and United Airlines have canceled 737 MAX flights through part of December.

Among its changes, Boeing is addressing a flaw discovered in the software architecture of the 737 MAX flight-control system that involves using and receiving input from both flight control computers rather than one.

Source: Reuters