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Boeing expects it will take several years to return the rate of 737 Max production to previously expected levels once the company resumes final assembly of the narrowbody, a milestone which could arrive in the coming months.
Executives laid out that timeline during a full-year earnings call on 29 January, signalling that Max output will remain significantly lower than that of the rival Airbus A320 family for the foreseeable future.
“We’ve assumed we will resume 737 Max production at low rates in 2020… Then we expect to gradually increase to previously planned production rates over the next few years,” says Boeing chief financial officer Greg Smith.
Boeing declines to say at which rate it intends to restart production - which was halted in January - or to provide timelines for rate increases.
A day before Boeing revealed its 2019 financial performance, United Technologies, which owns key 737 Max supplier Collins Aerospace, said that based on “constant contact” with the airframer, it foresaw production stopping for around 90 days and then resuming at a rate of 21 aircraft per month.
“When the supply chain has stability, we will make the next rate increase,” Smith says.
Prior to the March 2019 grounding, Boeing produced 52 737s per month and anticipated hiking production to 57 aircraft per month in 2019, followed by possible further increases.
Airbus built about 53 A320-family aircraft each month in 2019 and will raise that to 63 aircraft per month in 2021.
Boeing expects Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification for the 737 Max will come by mid-year, meaning production could restart within several months.
During the grounding Boeing has stockpiled completed 737 Max aircraft at several US airfields. Once regulators do clear the Max to fly, Boeing faces the massive task of getting all those aircraft delivered.
“Return to service… will be a one-and-a-half-year programme based on the [aircraft] in inventory,” says Boeing chief executive David Calhoun.
Smith clarifies that most currently-stored Max will be delivered within a year of the grounding being lifted.
Calhoun also insists that neither a constrained supply of flight simulators nor the FAA’s new airworthiness certification requirements will delay that timeline.
Boeing now pegs the financial impact of the 737 Max grounding at $18.6 billion, including estimated costs associated with concessions to customers and disruption to the now-halted production line.
Concessions to 737 Max customers will cost it $8.3 billion, rising by over $2.6 billion on the previous estimate of $5.6 billion.
Additionally, the company now predicts it will incur $6.3 billion in additional “estimated costs to produce 737 aircraft included in the accounting quality”. That figure includes $3.6 billion in costs attributed to the first nine months of 2019, and an additional $2.6 billion in the fourth quarter.
Boeing also foresees its future financial results will be hammered by $4 billion in “abnormal production costs to be incurred during the suspension and gradual resumption of production at low production rates, primarily to be expensed in 2020”.
For 2019, Boeing reported a net loss of $636 million, down from a net profit of $10.5 billion the year before.
That net loss was on revenue of $76.6 billion, down 24% from $101 billion in 2018.
The commercial aircraft division posted $32.3 billion in 2019 revenue, down 44% year on year, and a full-year operating loss of $6.7 billion, reversing an operating profit of $7.8 billion in 2018.
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