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Once A Financial Drain, The Once-Grounded 737 Max Might Help Boeing Recover

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Boeing is closing the books on a dismal year. The aircraft manufacturer lost a record $12 billion in 2020, and the company is now looking to recover from both the pandemic and its 737 Max debacle. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun started a conference call today on the company's 2020 financial results by stating the obvious but painful truth.

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DAVE CALHOUN: 2020 was a historically challenging year for our world, for our industry, for our business and our communities.

SCHAPER: Boeing's $12 billion loss is the largest in the aerospace giant's 100-plus-year history. And the pandemic is a big part of the reason. Air travel demand plummeted and remains down nearly 60% from a year ago. And that has airlines deferring orders and delaying deliveries of new planes. And Calhoun doesn't expect demand to bounce back anytime soon.

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CALHOUN: We expect it will take around three years for travel to return to the 2019 levels and a few years beyond that to return to our long-term growth trends.

SCHAPER: But it's not just the pandemic. The company had a slew of their own design and production problems with the 787 Dreamliner, a military refueling tanker and with the new 777X. And then there's the 737 Max, grounded for nearly two years following two deadly crashes. Today, European aviation regulators became the latest to approve fixes, allowing the troubled jet to return to service.

But there are some bright spots, including a strong defense business and demand for cargo jets. Aviation industry analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group says, while Boeing is in the worst shape it's ever been, there's almost nowhere to go but up.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: At the end of the day, they've got a very strong position. They'll get out of this. But in terms of where they find themselves at this moment in time, it's a pretty bad situation.

SCHAPER: Other analysts agree, conceding, though, that Boeing's road to profitability will be a long one.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.