It was going to happen, as the airline industry starts to sense a slowdown. The order splurge of the past few years was unprecedented. Between them, Airbus and Boeing are sitting on a seven-year backlog in single-aisle aircraft.
But because of the two crashes and the subsequent grounding, the Boeing MAX is in a more delicate situation. Confidence in Boeing and its MAX is not what it was even six months ago. Yesterday another customer formally canceled its order. The headline speaks of a $1 Billion dollar deal. Industry insiders smile at that – it’s probably half that, at most. Moreover, Boeing has literally thousands of the MAX orders. Losing ten? It shouldn’t even make page ten in the business section. But here we are today – any 737 news goes to page one. Especially if it reflects poorly on Boeing.
Besides the cancellation of an order, Boeing is regularly in the news as airlines go public with claims against the OEM from the MAX grounding. United, TUI, Ryanair, Norwegian, China, and others. The grounding is going to cost a lot. But more worrying will be MAX order flow once the grounding is lifted. Some airlines talk about coming back for more; important brands like Ryanair and Southwest are crucial to the 737 program. Today it was LOT. Boeing must appreciate this loyalty deeply.
But there is also a realization that the 737 MAX faces an unprecedented challenge – as even the LOT link above shows. Southwest and United both comprehend their customers’ concern about flying the MAX. American‘s CEO startled people by saying they would not offer reassurances about flying the MAX.
Then there are articles like this that Boeing is run for the benefit of its shareholders, not passenger safety. This an unfair because Boeing, like everyone in commercial aviation, starts from the non-negotiable position of safety first. The news flow, with revelations about the MAX program development process, has produced wave after wave of bad news for Boeing. The Barclays passenger survey has been sourced several times. For the 20% of the passengers who don’t ever want to fly a MAX, air travel is going to become difficult.
There may be cracks in the MAX backlog. Some may be starting to show (also Malaysian). However, Southwest has also spoken of ordering more MAXs. Garuda was first to cancel its order for 50. The news flow does not generate the confidence in the MAX Boeing wants and needs. Boeing is treading warily with any forward-looking news. Comments from Ethiopian‘s CEO were calibrated, but those from Lion Air were less so as the airline considers switching to Airbus. Notice that since the initial comments and then the Ethiopian crash we have heard not a word from Lion Air. Like you, we wonder why?