Boeing 737 Max cancellations mount, pushing down order backlog

Boeing 737 MAX airplanes, along with one Boeing 787 at top, are parked at Grant County International Airport October 23, 2019 in Moses Lake, Washington.

David Ryder | Getty Images

Boeing said Tuesday that customers canceled 108 more orders for 737 Max jetliners in April, further whittling down the company’s backlog of planes as it faces the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on air travel and its customers.

The additional cancellations coupled with Boeing’s move to take some orders off of its firm order tally, pushed the company’s backlog down to 4,834 planes. Last month it had unfilled orders of 5,049 planes. Among the customers that canceled orders was General Electric’s aircraft leasing arm, known as Gecas.

The backlog is the smallest since 2013, but Boeing said in 2018 it implemented new accounting procedures under which it can take some orders off the tally if a purchaser doesn’t meet certain criteria.

The pandemic has posed the greatest threat to the air travel industry in recent memory, executives have said. While off the lows, U.S. air passenger traffic is down more than 90% from a year ago as shelter-in-place orders, work-from-home setups and concerns about the virus in general keep most potential travelers home. 

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has said it could take three years for air travel demand to recover to 2019 levels and even longer to get back to growth mode.

Calhoun told NBC’s “TODAY” show in an interview that aired Tuesday that the coronavirus will “likely” put a U.S. carrier out of business, but he didn’t to go into specifics. A Boeing spokesman said Calhoun “was speaking in general about the uncertainty in the sector not about any one particular airline.”

The pandemic is an additional problem for Boeing that was already struggling from the 737 Max crisis. Those planes have been grounded for the last 14 months worldwide after two fatal crashes — one in Indonesia in October 2018 and another in Ethiopia in March 2019 — killed all 346 aboard the two flights.

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