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Boeing orders nearly halted following Alaska Air incident

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Boeing, hit by quality problems following a burst door plug incident on an Alaska Airlines flight early last month, said January was its worst month for new plane orders since strongest of the pandemic.

The company announced Tuesday that it has reserved orders for just three planes, all 737 Max planes, to an unidentified customer. But it also had three 737 Max orders canceled, totaling zero net orders over the period.

The company last recorded three or fewer gross orders in June 2020, when it had just one aircraft order. The last time Boeing had zero or negative net orders was in January 2021, when it had negative net orders of 1.

The pandemic caused a temporary virtual shutdown of air travel and massive losses across the airline industry, stifling demand for new aircraft orders. Boeing’s orders during the period were also hurt by the 20-month grounding of the 737 Max, its best-selling model, following two fatal crashes of the plane that killed 346 people in late 2018 and early 2019.

The very bad month for orders at Boeing follows 369 total net orders in December, a record month for the company and a sign that its airline customers had recovered from the pandemic and were eager to add new planes to their fleets. That month was the best year for Boeing orders since before the 2019 grounding.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the Alaska Air flight, said four bolts needed to hold the door plug in place were missing from the plane Boeing delivered to Alaska last October. Although the NTSB has not identified who was responsible for the missing bolts, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun told investors earlier this month that whatever its findings, “we caused the problem.”

Earlier this month, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said the company no longer expects to get any of the 737 Max 10 models it has ordered in the near future. He described the Alaska Air incident as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” regarding its plans to take delivery of the new, longer Max model. And Southwest Airlines, another major Boeing customer, said it was no longer counting on deliveries it had planned for later this year of the 737 Max 7.

Both models have not yet been certified to carry passengers by the Federal Aviation Administration, a process that may now be delayed by the Alaska Air incident. Uncertainty about this process and the desire to see The way the NTSB investigation is unfolding could be one reason Boeing’s orders came to a screeching halt during the month.

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