Boeing Aircraft Sales Plummet 59% in 2020, Lowest in Nearly 50 Years

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The year 2020 was one of the worst years for Boeing’s aircraft sales. According to the research data analyzed and published by Stock Apps, the Chicago-based manufacturer delivered only 157 jets the entire year. This translates to a 59% decline year-over-year (YoY) considering that it had delivered 380 jets in 2019.

The last time its performance was so poor was in 1972 when the Chicago-based manufacturer delivered 97 aeroplanes. Its deliveries for 1971 had totaled 141, and thereafter, the figure rose to 156 in 1973.

2020 saw Boeing’s unfulfilled backlog of orders shrink by over 1,000 aircraft. These included around 650 order cancellations from customers, as well as 500 orders that did not seem likely to be fulfilled.

In addition to the pandemic woes, the company was also reeling from the effects of its 737 MAX grounding. The 737 MAX was cleared to fly again in November 2020 after a 20-month long hiatus.

Prior to the grounding of the MAX, Boeing had been the world’s top airplane maker for seven straight years ahead of rival Airbus. The last time Boeing outpaced Airbus was in 2018, when it sold a total of 806 units, compared to 800 for Airbus. In 2019, Airbus took the top spot with 863 units, nearly tripling Boeing’s unit sales.

Airbus was the top player once again in 2020 with a total of 566 deliveries. It marked a 34% decline from its 2019 total.

Boeing Reported 90 Gross Orders in December 2020

December 2020 marked a turning point for Boeing as it reported 90 gross orders. 75 of these came from Ryanair, a European budget carrier.

Alaska Airlines announced plans to increase its order for the 737 MAX by 23 units, in keeping with its plans to move to an all-Boeing fleet. American Airlines ordered 10 units, while United Airlines received eight MAX units.

In addition to passenger airlines hunting for bargains during the pandemic-related low season, another trend was noted. Demand for air cargo was high in 2020 due to an upsurge in eCommerce. To keep up with the demand, cargo airlines went on a shopping spree which has carried into 2021.

Atlas Air made an order for four 747’s on January 12, 2021. The company already has 72 units and is the top operator of the 747 Jumbo Jets worldwide. On the same day, DHL ordered an additional eight 777 freighters from Boeing. This order was added to a previous order made in 2018 for 14 aircraft. DHL already operates 260 dedicated aircraft.

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According to an IATA projection, air cargo is on track to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. However, air travel will take several years.

Passenger Numbers to Rise to 71% of 2019 Levels by June 2021

Based on a report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), seating capacity fell by around 50% in 2020. Only about 1.8 billion passengers took flights throughout the year, compared to a total of 4.5 billion in 2019.

Total Number of Airline Passengers in 2019 and 2020

Boeing Aircraft Sales Plummet 59% in 2020, Lowest in Nearly 50 Years Brandspurng
Source: International Civil Aviation Organization

As a result, the industry lost a staggering $370 billion, as air navigation service providers and airports lost a further $13 billion and $115 billion respectively.

The drop in passenger traffic was more pronounced in international travel than on domestic flights.

With regards to domestic passenger traffic, there was a decline of about 50% during the year. International traffic, on the other hand, fell by 74%, equivalent to 1.4 billion passengers.

Despite new infections in the US, air travel hit a new high during the holidays. Over 1.3 million people were reported to have passed through TSA checkpoints at US airports on January 3, 2021. Though this was only 55% of the 2.4 million reported in the previous year, it was the highest volume on record since March 2020. In total, TSA reported having screened 324 million people in 2020, compared to over 800 million in 2019.

2021 is off to a disappointing start with January domestic bookings in the US at 36% of their year-ago levels. In Europe, they are at 22% and 48% in China.

ICAO does not expect significant air travel recovery until the second quarter of 2021. Even then, it will depend on the effectiveness of vaccine rollouts and pandemic management around the globe.

According to its projections, the most optimistic scenario will see passenger numbers rise to 71% of 2019 levels by June 2021. International flights will be at 53% by then and 84% for domestic flights. In the worst-case scenario, the recovery will be at 49% by that time, 26% for international travel and 66% for domestic.