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MAX update: Boeing loses more MAX orders, makes first delivery for 2020

written by Hannah Dowling | December 10, 2020
A file image of a United Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9. (Wikimedia Commons/Konstantin von Wedelstaedt).

Despite the welcome news that the 737 MAX has been approved for commercial service by the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing reported more MAX order cancellations in November.

Boeing announced that a further 88 MAX plane orders were cancelled in November, bringing its total cancellations on the MAX alone to 536 for 2020 so far.

A majority of the cancellations came from Australian carrier Virgin Australia, which rid itself of an order for 48 jets, however this was quickly replaced with a new order for a smaller amount of 25 aircraft.

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On top of the 25 jet orders from Virgin, the US planemaker scored an additional two MAX orders in November.

Notably, the November figures do not include European low-cost carrier Ryanair’s order for 75 additional MAX aircraft, which was announced last week.

Boeing said it delivered seven commercial jets during November, mostly cargo planes to UPS, FedEx, DHL, and others, bringing total deliveries in 2020 to 118. 

Meanwhile, European rival Airbus delivered 64 planes in November and 477 for the year.

An analyst for financial-services firm Cowen, Cai von Rumohr, called Boeing’s latest report on orders and deliveries “weak on both sides of the ball”.

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Boeing still has around 450 MAX aircraft that were built throughout the 20-month global grounding of the aircraft that are yet to be delivered.

First official delivery made since grounding order

On a more positive note for the planemaker, Boeing has officially delivered its first 737 MAX aircraft in more than 21 months, following the FAA’s decision to officially lift its near two-year-long grounding order last month.

United Airlines was the first carrier to take delivery of a 737 MAX in almost two years, when a 737 MAX 9, registration N27515, was delivered from Boeing Field to Seattle Tacoma International on Wednesday.

The aircraft is said to have already undergone the necessary modifications and software upgrades required under the FAA for recertifying the aircraft for commercial service.

United has not planned to return any of its MAX jets to scheduled service until the first quarter of 2021, unlike American Airlines and Brazil’s GOL, both of which will see the aircraft carrying passengers before the year is out.

“As we begin receiving 737 MAX deliveries from Boeing, we will inspect every aircraft, require our pilots to undergo additional training reviewed and approved by the FAA, and conduct test flights before we bring these aircraft back into service,” said United spokesperson Frank Benenati.

He said the airline will share a more specific flight schedule with the public and employees soon.

Regulators hesitant on returning MAX to skies

The 737 MAX was grounded around the world in March 2019, following two fatal crashes that killed 346 people.

The US grounding order was lifted by the Federal Aviation Administration on 18 November, which reinstated the aircraft for commercial use, with some caveats.

These included mandatory updates to the notorious MCAS system – largely identified as the cause of the two fatal crashes – additional sensors implemented, and further pilot training protocols.

Brazil’s civil aviation authority was quick to follow the FAA’s lead in recertifying the aircraft for commercial use, however, in a largely unprecedented move, other global aviation regulators are holding back on blindly following the lead of the FAA in regulatory decisions.

Regulators in Canada and Europe have both stated they will follow through on independent testing of the aircraft, and will hold off on recertifying the aircraft until the new year.

Meanwhile, Chinese regulators have made no mention of recertifying the aircraft.

In the past, regulatory decisions on aircraft were largely left to the aviation regulator in the same jurisdiction as the planemaker, however the MAX has seen international regulators taking more initiative on the decision.

Canadian regulator Transport Canada has said it will reform the way it validates aircraft, and take a harder look at the relationship between regulators and the manufacturers they oversee, in light of the Boeing 737 MAX fiasco.

Transport Canada’s director of civil aviation, Nicholas Robinson, said the regulator would “have to look at the interaction that different authorities have with their manufacturers” during a Canadian hearing on aircraft certification and the MAX disasters.

The MAX has seen both Boeing and the FAA face scrutiny over what US lawmakers have called the “undue influence” that Boeing has over the US regulator’s certification processes.

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