Dubai: Around 400 and over – that’s the target US jet-maker Boeing is setting for itself in deliveries of its popular 737 MAX aircraft by end 2023.
Anything over that 400 would count as a definite plus as the manufacturer scrambles back into winning over market share in new orders during a time when airlines worldwide are busy with an unprecedented round of fleet expansion.
The 737 MAX family has been one of the prongs that Boeing had been hoping to make its presence felt when new orders come. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride as supply chain issues and various niggles related specifically to the 737 proved hurdles in these 3 years.
“We recently discovered we had something that didn’t comply with our original design,” said Randy Heisey, Boeing’s Managing Director of Commercial Marketing for the Middle East and Africa, and Russia and Central Asia. “So, it’s led to a pause in our deliveries. Still, we are working through that issue.”
The manufacturer handed over 344 planes to customers during the first eight months of 2023.
It was in August that Boeing confirmed its supplier Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. had improperly drilled some holes in 737 bulkheads to help maintain cabin pressure.
This then led to an extensive inspection to fix thousands of mis-drilled holes on the 737 MAX 8 aft pressure bulkhead.
“We have our team intensely working on meeting quality,” said Heisey. “We’ve worked throughout our supply chain, putting some senior executives embedded with some of our suppliers, and focused extensively within our own four walls on ensuring that we meet our customers’ expectations.”
Regional carriers, including the UAE airline flydubai, acknowledged that they had fallen short of passenger forecasts due to delays in aircraft deliveries, specifically the Boeing 737 MAX. flydubai, an all-Boeing carrier, had expected to take deliveries of 17 aircraft in 2023, of which it has so far received 7.
Heisey responded, “We know the adverse impact that occurs when our aeroplanes are not delivered on time. We also share that disappointment when our suppliers don’t deliver on time to us.”
Supply chain challenges
While Heisey did not provide an exact timeline for when the supply chain challenges, which surfaced amid the pandemic, would resolve, he did say it should be resolved ‘in the not-so-distant future’.
“I don’t want to put a specific date out there, but we’re expecting it sooner rather than later that we’ll have recovery of the supply chain. Unlike a light switch, it’s difficult to turn everything back on instantly, so it takes some time to spool up.
“With that in mind, we’re expecting in the not too distant future that everything should restore to the kind of production system as companies rebuild their infrastructure and have their workforce re-established and trained.”
The current challenges are not only impacting the new production build, but also impact the airline industry’s need to replace components on aerocraft during routine maintenance. “So there’s a huge amount of demand for all of the supply bases to build back up its capacity again, and that motivates those suppliers to meet their production quotas,” said Heisey.
Boeing said the company is seeing increasing demand from developing markets. “Markets like India, for example, have been growing significantly,” the official added. “The African market is one of those with high potential. The African aviation market is projected to grow at over 7 per cent.
“It’s almost 7.5 per cent growth rate, the traffic there, which will lead to, like much of the rest of the world, more than doubling of the fleet in Africa over the next two decades.”
Narrow vs. wide-body
Heisey said the global trend in aircraft demand has shown that about 75 per cent of new deliveries in the next two decades will be single-aisle aircraft. This trend is driven by the growth of low-cost carriers.
Historically, demand has been more evenly split in the Middle East between wide-body and single-aisle aircraft, with around 60 per cent in favour of the former. However, with the efficiency of single-aisle planes and the rise of the low-cost carrier model, there could be a shift towards a reversing of the split.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in wide-body aircraft but rather an increase in both categories, with single-aisle planes gaining a larger market share,” the Boeing official said.
Regarding sustainability, the choice between single-aisle and wide-body aircraft depends on the situation.
“In low-demand markets, single-aisle aircraft can be more fuel-efficient and emit fewer emissions per flight,” said Heisey. “In markets with higher demand where wide-body aircraft can fill more seats, they can be more efficient on a per-seat basis.
“The choice depends on the route and passenger demand, with both single-aisle and wide-body planes playing important roles in meeting sustainability goals.”