Analysis Shows 13% Of Stored MAX Fleet Has No Customers

Boeing MAX aircraft
Credit: Boeing

Boeing needs to find new customers for 13% of the 737 MAXs it has built but not delivered following order-book shuffling by customers prompted by several factors, including the model’s prolonged grounding and the global airline downturn, an Aviation Week analysis shows.

The company had about 470 MAXs in its possession awaiting delivery to customers as of Aug. 31. Most of Boeing’s MAX inventory has been built since mid-March 2019, when the model was grounded and Boeing paused deliveries of its newest narrowbody.

An Aviation Week Intelligence Network Fleet Data analysis shows 62 of these, or 13% of the total, have been canceled by their original customers and not re-booked as part of new orders, a serial-number-level analysis of available data shows. Lessors accounted for 49 of these cancellations, while airlines canceled 11 of them. Two others were Boeing Business Jet VIP versions.

Several of the cancellations affecting the 62 customer-less aircraft, including two by SpiceJet, took place before October 2018, when the first of two fatal MAX accidents took place that led to the model’s grounding.

In addition to the 62 aircraft with no firm orders attached, another 12 aircraft in Boeing’s current MAX inventory were canceled but then picked up in subsequent orders. Reuters reported that Boeing is pursuing an order from Delta Air Lines for as many as 40 of the remaining white tails. Delta is the largest U.S. carrier without any MAX orders.

Looking at year-to-date figures, customers canceled 564 MAX orders in the first eight months of 2020, including 114 by airlines, the analysis shows. GOL, with 34, and Air Canada, with 29, account for most of the airline-generated order book removals. Two of the 2020 airline cancellations, both by Royal Air Maroc, are among the 62 aircraft in Boeing’s inventory without a new customer.

Last year, Boeing lost 270 MAX orders to cancellations—most of them destined for Jet Airways, which stopped flying in April 2019. Boeing’s official Aug. 31 backlog included a 125-aircraft order for Jet Airways. Airlines accounted for 162 MAX cancellations last year, with lessors making up the balance.

While Boeing publishes monthly delivery data, it does not disclose official figures on the total number of aircraft built and awaiting handover to customers, such as the MAXs built in the last 18 months. 

Aviation Week’s analysis showed Boeing had 456 undelivered MAXs when it paused production in January 2020. Boeing has not revealed firm rates for its 737 program since it re-started what it called “low-rate” production in April, so it is unclear how many MAXs have been produced in 2020. Analysts at Jefferies reported that as of mid-September, Spirit AeroSystems had shipped a total of 22 737 MAX fuselages to Boeing in 2020.

Boeing’s latest 737 production projections has it steadily ramping up to 31 aircraft per month in the first quarter of 2022. MAX deliveries are expected to re-start soon after regulators begin lifting the operations bans that grounded the fleet following two fatal accidents. The FAA and some other regulators could sign off on changes Boeing is making to the MAX in November or December, clearing the way for a few deliveries in 2020. 

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, a former airline pilot with 737 experience, took the revised training over several days and then flew one of Boeing’s test aircraft on Sept. 30, conducting scenarios that demonstrate many of the required changes Boeing made. In post-flight comments to reporters, Dickson was upbeat about Boeing’s progress, but stopped short of providing a definitive date for the FAA’s sign-off.

Aviation Week data shows the MAX program with 3,993 outstanding orders, including 11 Boeing Business Jets. The Aviation Week backlog does not include orders still reflected in Boeing’s official numbers that are highly unlikely to be delivered, such as the Jet Airways MAXs.

—Fleet analysis by Bo-Göran Lundkvist 

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.