The speed at which a handful of US passenger airlines bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic will to a large degree determine how significantly the virus downturn wallops airframers Airbus and Boeing.
That is because US behemoths American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines collectively hold orders for 388 Airbus and Boeing aircraft due for delivery through the end of 2021, according to Cirium fleets data.
Those orders alone account for 14% of the airframers’ backlog of airline orders during the period.
Indeed, the figures reveal the exposure Airbus and Boeing have, not only in the US airline sector, but more specifically to four of the world’s largest operators.
The ability of those carriers to recover from the coronavirus downturn will play a significant role in determining if Airbus and Boeing can keep delivering aircraft at anywhere near the record levels of recent years.
Financial services company Jefferies is already anticipating a major aircraft delivery slump. It predicts Boeing and Airbus will deliver only 118 widebodies this year, down more than 70% from the 426 aircraft shipped last year, according to a 31 March research report.
That figure includes an estimated 45 widebodies delivered by Airbus this year, down from 173 in 2019, and 73 widebodies delivered by Boeing, down from 253.
Jefferies thinks Airbus’ and Boeing’s widebody deliveries will gradually increase to a combined 238 aircraft annually by 2023.
It expects Airbus will deliver 489 narrowbodies (including A320-family aircraft and A220s) this year, down from 690 in 2019.
Boeing, Jefferies predicts, will hand over 220 737 Max in 2020, with deliveries of about 35 aircraft monthly, By comparison, Boeing delivered 580 737s (including NGs and Max), or nearly 50 aircraft monthly, in 2018 – the last full year before the 2019 grounding.
As their backlogs currently stand, airlines worldwide are due to receive some 2,705 aircraft from Airbus and Boeing between now and the end of 2021. The airframers’ backlogs include another 350 aircraft due to lessors that have not specified which airlines will operate the aircraft, Cirium data shows.
North American airlines hold 593 of those 2,705 orders, or 22% of the total, according to Cirium data. The North American orders are split roughly even between the manufacturers, with Airbus holding 277 orders and Boeing holding 316, data shows.
Southwest is due to receive 114 aircraft - all of them 737 Max - between now and the end of next year, more aircraft than any airline anywhere.
Delta, meanwhile, holds orders for 98 aircraft for delivery during the period. Those include 27 A220s, 55 A321s, 14 A330s and two A350s, Cirium shows.
American is due to take 90 aircraft by the end of 2021, including 36 737 Max, 33 A321s and 21 787s, and United is due to receive 86 jets, including 74 737 Max and 12 787s.
Whether US airlines will actually take delivery of all those aircraft remains an open question, though analysts say the recent grounding of hundreds of aircraft will likely spur a wave of order deferrals.
Since the coronavirus downturn started, for instance, Southwest has reduced its in-service fleet from 709 to 614 737s, Cirium shows. On 31 March, the airline said it slashed about 2,000 flights daily from its schedules during the 3 May to 5 June period, a 40% decline.
Likewise, United has cut April flying 60% – and it still expects load factors could be less than 10%. American and Delta have likewise slashed flying and retired older jets.
The US government last week passed an economic package providing some $58 billion in support of US airlines and their workers.
The law also makes $17 billion in loans available to national-security-critical companies and $454 billion to “distressed” businesses – categories into which analysts say aerospace companies like Boeing might fall.
Teal Group aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia says the aid might help prevent a broad collapse of the aerospace supply chain, but he suspects it might exacerbate oversupply by keeping production humming at a time of low demand.
“No one is taking these planes, or no one really wants them. But they are being built because there’s government money,” he says.