The COVID-19 pandemic threatens some major airlines across the globe with bankruptcy, and both Boeing and its archrival Airbus will have to adapt and shrink until some degree of normality returns, according to one of the world's top airline executives.
For Boeing, the worldwide downturn couldn't come at a worse time, said Tim Clark, president of giant Gulf airline Emirates and a key Boeing customer.
"The Max was probably the single biggest problem in Boeing's history, until the pandemic came along," said Clark, in a phone interview from Dubai. "Add the two together and you have a very stricken company."
He said Emirates, the launch customer for the massive 777X that flew for the first time in January, is negotiating with Boeing to delay delivery of any of the jets from next year to 2022. It also wants to swap out some of the remaining 126 of the big jets on order and replace them with smaller 787 Dreamliners.
Clark said problems at Boeing have the 777X running late at the same time as the pandemic crisis has hit airline demand for the jet.
The first delivery for the 777X was originally set for this year, but was pushed into 2021 after problems arose with development of its GE9X engines.
And after the damaging revelations about lack of oversight during certification of the 737 Max, he said, Boeing expects both U.S. and foreign regulators to take an extended time and insist upon a deep scrutiny before approving the 777X.
"One doesn't really know when it will be delivered. It may suit both parties to push it back," he said. "Much will depend on that negotiation."
If delivery is deferred and 787s substituted for some of the 777Xs, it would be the second step back by Emirates from its original order. Last fall, it reduced the original 777X commitment, swapping out 24 of the jets for 30 Dreamliners.
Another 777X customer, Qatar, has also said it won't take deliveries next year, and all the other airlines in the 777X order book are suffering distress because of the pandemic shutdown of air travel.