Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a major risk factor for the aviation industry and is taking a huge toll on air travel demand, at least for the near future. Also, on March 9, an employee at Boeing’s Everett facility tested positive for COVID-19 and the company announced that employees are working offsite if they are able to.
While it would be premature to make detailed conclusions about how COVID-19 will impact the aviation industry in the future, even if the outbreak is short-lived, it is reasonable to argue that a major risk factor has emerged to air travel and aerospace manufacturing. While outbreaks of infectious disease across borders are not unprecedented, in recent history the impact has been geographically concentrated. The SARS outbreak in 2002-04 mainly impacted Southeast Asia and the 2013-16 outbreak of Ebola was predominantly in three nations in West Africa. COVID-19, while less lethal, has demonstrated that infectious diseases can fairly quickly cause great harm to worldwide economic activity due to the measures that need to be taken to contain it. While the aviation industry, and the air transport industry in particular, will not have to completely alter its approach to risk management, companies will certainly have to revisit and revise their models.
Turning to the February numbers for orders and deliveries, Boeing and Airbus delivered 17 and 55 commercial jets in February 2020 compared to 49 deliveries each in the same month last year. Boeing’s deliveries continue to suffer in the aftermath of two 737 MAX crashes and the subsequent deliveries halt and grounding of the fleet. Deliveries of 737 MAX aircraft have been suspended since March 2019. Year-to-date, Boeing has delivered 30 aircraft and is 65 deliveries behind last year’s total for the first two months of the year. Airbus delivered a total of 86 jets in January and February, compared to 88 in the same period last year. For the full year 2019, Boeing delivered 380 aircraft, while Airbus set a new all-time annual record, handing over 863 jets. Prior to this, Boeing had retained a deliveries lead over Airbus since 2012. In 2018, Boeing delivered 806 jets (763 in 2017), with Airbus handing over 800 (718 in 2017).