A faster-than-expected recovery in the US domestic air travel is helping the world’s largest aerospace company Boeing find new buyers for unclaimed 737 Max jets, which remained unsold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some airlines are buying these orphaned jets amid a vaccine-fuelled travel rebound in many parts of the world, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The Chicago-based planemaker is left with only around 10 stored MAX aircraft, the WSJ report mentioned, quoting people familiar with the matter. Last July, Boeing had around 100 737 Max jets.
According to the report, major US carriers such as United Airlines Inc and Alaska Air Group Inc are among recent buyers of the unclaimed MAX planes often referred to as whitetails—an industry term for those that aren’t painted in airline colours.
United Airlines said the carrier’s March order for 25 MAX jets included planes from Boeing’s built inventory as well, besides it has been in talks with the plane manufacturer about a potential order for as many as 150 additional jets.
An Alaska Airlines spokeswoman said it secured nine MAX jets, built for other carriers, in a December deal. Newer entrants such as Canadian discount carrier Flair Airlines Ltd are also spurring demand, the report added.
Even before the COVID-induced slowdown in the aviation sector, the Boeing 737 Max planes were grounded worldwide on March 13, 2019, for nearly two years after two of its aircraft crashed in Indonesia (2018) and Ethiopia (2019), claiming the lives of a total of 346 people.
Apart from the human tragedy, it was a huge blow to Boeing's business, since the company had thousands of 737 Max orders. Besides the flight control system, which was at the centre of the probe into both the crashes, concerns were also raised regarding its wiring and engines.
The Boeing 737 Max was finally cleared to return to the skies only in April this year. However, aviation safety agencies in the US, Brazil, Canada, Australia, the UK and the European Union among others ordered Boeing and respective airlines to repair the flight control system, update operating manuals, and increase pilot training.
Meanwhile, 100 737 Max planes —belonging to 24 airlines across the world— were grounded again this April following the discovery of a potential electrical problem. Deliveries of many more new aircraft were suspended, according to a BBC report.
Boeing and the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, said they were working closely to address the issue, even as critics raised their voices again, claiming the 737 Max was allowed back into service prematurely. However, with an upswing in domestic air travel in the US in recent months, Boeing 737 Max is able to spread its wings again.