Boeing orders, deliveries dry up in January as plane-maker grapples with latest Max crisis

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An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S. March 21, 2019.
Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

Boeing‘s aircraft orders and deliveries fell in January as the company grappled with the fallout from a midflight blowout of a fuselage panel on one of its 737 Max 9s, an accident that overshadowed the manufacturer’s strong finish in 2023.

The company handed over 27 planes last month, its lowest tally since September, compared with 67 deliveries in December. It sold three Boeing 737 Max planes, but also logged three cancellations.

The deliveries were roughly in line with what some analysts expected. The three gross orders come after a big December when Boeing sold 371 planes.

Boeing rival Airbus handed over 30 planes in January.

Boeing executives have been scrambling to persuade airline customers, investors and regulators that it will find more reliable footing after the Jan. 5 accident, when a door plug blew out on an Alaska Airlines flight at 16,000 feet shortly after it left Portland, Oregon. No one was seriously injured on Flight 1282, but the violent detachment ripped off headrests and exposed travelers to a gaping hole in the 26th row.

Bolts that hold the unused exit door panel in place appeared to be missing from the fuselage piece, which had been removed and put back at Boeing’s 737 Max factory in Renton, Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report Feb. 6.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has vowed to review manufacturing processes at the company’s facilities. The Federal Aviation Administration said it would halt Boeing’s planned production increases until it is “satisfied that the quality control issues uncovered during this process are resolved.”

“I’m sort of glad they called out a pause because that’s a good excuse to just take our time, do it right,” Calhoun said on an earnings call Jan. 31.

Boeing earlier this month disclosed it would have to rework about 50 undelivered Max planes because of incorrectly drilled holes, a new production glitch that could slow deliveries.

The FAA is auditing Boeing’s production, and the agency’s administrator, Mike Whitaker, told CNBC last month that it will keep “boots on the ground” at Boeing and perform direct inspections of work there. The audit includes about two-dozen inspectors, stationed at the Renton factory and in Wichita, Kansas, where Spirit Aerosystems makes the Max fuselages.

Boeing now has to periodically pause its production line, and CFO Brian West said at a TD Cowen investor conference on Tuesday that the company expects to be at a steady rate of 38 Max planes a month in the second half of the year.

“We are doing that so that we can get the benefit of our audit, we can get the benefit of our own inspection protocols, and that will just slow the line,” West said.

FAA Administrator Whitaker is traveling to the Renton plant this week.

Boeing’s January deliveries included three Max planes to Chinese customers, the first in about four years. 

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