Boeing’s troubles are far from solved, but the events of 18 November 2020 at least cleared a cloud that had overshadowed the Chicago airframer for 20 months.
On that day, the Federal Aviation Administration lifted the 737 Max’s grounding, enabling airlines to resume flights and clearing Boeing to restart deliveries.
Then, in early December, Boeing scored other wins: On 3 December, Ryanair ordered 75 additional 737 Max, and on 9 December Brazil’s Gol restarted Max flights.
For those reasons, 2021 starts with a rare (if narrow) beam of optimism for the Chicago airframer, though the company must still muddle through an industry collapse that poses unprecedented challenges. Several aerospace analysts have predicted that Boeing will not announce any major commercial aircraft development projects in 2021, but will rather focus on weathering the crisis.
“What I really want to see in 2021 is solid management of the [deliveries] of the Max”, and “some level of stabilisation with the 787”, says Michel Merluzeau, aerospace analyst with consultancy AIR.
Among Boeing’s primary 2021 tasks is finding a way to deliver hundreds of already-produced 737 Max. The company holds a stockpile of about 450 of those jets, and has said it intends to deliver about half of them within one year of the grounding being lifted.
“That’s what going to bring some level of liquidity back into the company,” Merluzeau says.
Boeing started that process in December when it delivered a 737 Max to United Airlines, marking the first delivery since the grounding had taken effect.
But getting jets into customers’ hands may be no easy task because, at the present time, airlines have little need for more capacity.
“It’s going to take creating thinking by Boeing in 2021 to work with customers”, to convince airlines to swap out 15- to 20-year-old 737NGs with new Max, Merluzeau says.
And while FAA certification is a critical milestone, Boeing in 2021 will also likely be working to convince other countries’ regulators to clear the jet.