Manufacturing issues stalled Boeing’s deliveries in August, and a spreading engine problem could threaten future delivery delays at rival Airbus.
Boeing delivered only 22 of its narrowbody 737 MAXs in August, according to data released Tuesday, after fuselage supplier Spirit AeroSystems discovered the latest MAX manufacturing defect requiring extensive inspections and repairs.
Deliveries of Boeing’s larger jets held steady with airlines taking eight widebody freighters and five passenger 787 widebodies for a total of 35 deliveries in August.
That brings total Boeing deliveries through August to 344 commercial jets.
In comparison, Airbus released data last week showing 52 deliveries in August, including 42 of the A320neo jet family that competes with the 737 MAX.
The Airbus total included also seven smaller single-aisle A220s, so the European jetmaker delivered only three widebody aircraft.
Airbus has delivered a total through August of 433 commercial jets.
But news Monday of the increased scope of an engine problem affecting Airbus A320 family jets presents a risk of potential delivery delays ahead for Boeing’s rival.
On the sales front, the world’s airlines continue to recover from the pandemic downturn and order new planes.
Boeing won 43 net new orders last month. That included a previously announced order for 13 MAXs from Aviation Capital Group, and another order for 25 MAXs disclosed Tuesday by another lessor SMBC Aviation Capital.
Seven 787 Dreamliners were ordered by unidentified customers in August and two MAX orders were canceled.
In addition, Boeing in August moved 35 orders previously designated as doubtful for reasons of contractual delays or lack of financing back into the solid backlog.
A preliminary agreement announced in Vietnam Monday during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden for Vietnam Air to buy 50 MAXs won’t be finalized and added to Boeing’s firm order book until later.
Boeing now has 510 net new firm orders for the year and older orders previously labeled uncertain but now restored to the backlog bumps that figure up to 737 orders through August.
Airbus won 117 net orders last month and is far ahead of Boeing on sales for the year with net new firm orders totaling 1,218 commercial jets.
Brian West, Boeing chief financial officer, outlined last week the impact of the defect discovered by Spirit of Wichita, Kan.: improperly drilled holes in the aft pressure bulkhead — the heavy metal dome capping the back end of the passenger cabin that is essential to maintaining cabin pressure.
He said the defect is complicated to fix and affects three-quarters of the 220 MAXs still parked in inventory, all of which must have the bulkhead repaired.
In addition, Spirit CEO Tom Gentile said that out of about 60 finished MAX fuselages stored in Wichita, 39 will need to be inspected via X-rays and repaired.
As a result of the rework needed, West projected lower MAX deliveries and an overall bottom-line loss for the company in the third quarter, with deliveries recovering in the fourth quarter.
Although Airbus has previously escaped the cascade of manufacturing defects that have plagued Boeing for the past three years, the European jetmaker now faces a serious issue with the Pratt & Whitney engines built for the A320neo jet family by RTX, previously known as Raytheon Technologies.
The problem could potentially reduce A320neo deliveries in the months ahead.
RTX disclosed in July that it had found contamination in the powdered metal used to manufacture high-pressure turbine disks in the core of Pratt’s Geared Turbofan (GTF) engine. It affects engines built before 2022 and could shorten the life span of each one.
On Monday, RTX dramatically expanded the scope of the problem, saying that 3,000 in-service engines will have to be inspected. In the first half of next year up to 650 of the worldwide Airbus A320neo fleet are projected to be out of service undergoing engine repair.
CEO Greg Hayes announced a write-off for the rework of between $3 billion and $3.5 billion.
RTX had earlier stated it intends to continue to deliver new engines unaffected by the defect to Airbus, and the European jetmaker has not adjusted its aggressive delivery and production ramp-up targets.
However, analysts fear that a proportion of new GTF engines will be diverted to the spare engines pool to support airline customers with planes grounded.
“This would place downward pressure on A320neo delivery plans,” Morgan Stanley analyst Kristine Liwag wrote in an investor note Monday.