As Boeing struggles to stay competitive, top jet buyers describe daunting outlook

By Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

The world's biggest buyers of commercial jets believe Boeing, which is set to report more heavy financial losses Wednesday, has fallen significantly below parity with rival Airbus — with limited options for recovery as it bleeds cash during the pandemic-driven aviation crisis.

In interviews, executives of the top aircraft-leasing companies said the country's commercial aviation leader faces immense challenges, with its 737 Max yet to resume commercial flights and prospects for its large new 777X jet crushed by the dramatic contraction of international air travel.

In the market for smaller, single-aisle jets, sales of the Airbus A320neo family — especially the large, long-range A321neo model — have far outstripped those of the 737 Max.

"The market has spoken. Airbus truly has a commanding lead at the upper-end size of the single-aisle marketplace," said John Plueger, chief executive of Los Angeles-based Air Lease Corporation (ALC), which owns or has on order a fleet of almost 800 Boeing and Airbus jets. "For sure, Boeing has lost position against Airbus during the Max crisis."

At the other end of the jet scale, Boeing has traditionally dominated the larger widebody airplane sector. Yet the new 777X, which seats more than 400 passengers, is in trouble. The big international long-haul airlines that launched the giant jet cannot hope to fill it in the wake of the global pandemic.

Those airlines "will want to push deliveries out quite a few years," said Gus Kelly, chief executive of Ireland-based AerCap, the world's largest airplane lessor, with a fleet of more than 1,000 large commercial jets and more than 300 on order.


"The 777X will have its day, but it will be in the future," Kelly said.

In an email, ALC chairman and eminent aviation entrepreneur Steve Udvar-Hazy said of the 777X that the jetmaker needs to "slow down production rates and focus on what airlines need rather than what Boeing would like to sell."

"Demand has vanished"

Engulfed in a historically unprecedented aviation downturn and still awaiting approval for its 737 Max to fly again, the U.S. industrial giant and cornerstone of Washington state's manufacturing economy is shrinking — laying off thousands of employees, cutting production and selling assets including significant real estate.


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