On November 18, 2020, the FAA rescinded its Emergency Order that had grounded the 737 MAX since March 13, 2019. The order allows Boeing to resume delivering the jets and will allow U.S. passenger flights to resume pending mandated fixes and additional pilot training. American Airlines had taken delivery of twenty-four MAX aircraft before the grounding and expects to take ten more before the end of this year. Starting December 29th, with one flight per day scheduled between Miami and New York’s LaGuardia, American will be the first air carrier to put the MAX back into regular commercial service. United, with 14 MAX aircraft currently in their fleet, will return the aircraft to service in the first quarter of 2021.1 Southwest, the largest 737 operator, will return the MAX to service in the second quarter of 2021. Other county regulators will individually determine airworthiness requirements and timing for a return to service.2 Even with MAX deliveries resuming Boeing executives do not expect the company to generate cash in 2021.
The collapse in traffic caused by the Covid pandemic forced a shift from 2019’s inability to meet demand to a 2020 industry-wide fleet oversupply. Air carriers parked 30% of their fleets (27% single-aisle, 41% twin-aisle).3 Both Airbus and Boeing have reduced production and cut jobs. Through October Boeing delivered just 111 jets compared to Airbus’ 413 jets. Operators are generating cash by selling aircraft to leasing companies and leasing them back. Delta entered into sale-leaseback arrangements to raise $1.2 billion. United has even sold 737 MAX models that have not yet been delivered.4 To meet changing demand patterns Southwest (with their all Boeing 737 fleet) is considering replacing their 737-700s, which are nearing retirement, with newer Airbus 220s to serve shorter to medium-haul markets more efficiently (Delta has ordered 95 A220 aircraft, 45 A220-100s and 50 larger A220-300s).
Domestic flight operations break-even points are estimated to require 60% to 70% of pre-pandemic operating revenues. The timeline for U.S. passenger operations to reach these levels remains uncertain. It is clear single-aisle aircraft that serve domestic markets will recover first. Thanksgiving Holiday traffic confirmed this. Air Carriers struggled with flight cancellations caused by pilot shortages as airport screenings rose above 1 Million, their highest in more than eight months. Wide-body routes continue to be negatively impacted by international travel restrictions. Uniform measures must be developed to support a return of international passenger flight. European air traffic control (“Eurocontrol”) outlined its ‘most optimistic’ scenario with traffic returning to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 but said the ‘most likely’ scenario would be 75% by 2024.
With vaccines expected to be available in the U.S. late December (widespread public availability by mid-2021), equipment opportunities will exist in the fleet surplus that is expected to continue through 2023. It is private capital allocation that identifies the opportunities that raise productivity. As the recovery begins, remain focused on what you can control. Strengthen customer relationships and position your equipment portfolio to deal with 2021’s flight operations challenges. Contact: Glenn P. Davis CEO 312-635-3161 firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Southwest has 233 MAX aircraft on order. Thirty-four have been delivered and are currently in storage.
2 European regulators are expected to lift the 737 MAX grounding in January 2021.
3 Cirium Fleets Analyzer, October 26, 2020.
4 United has sold and leased back 22 planes in bid to conserve cash, CNBC, April 19, 2020.
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