Will 2022 be when it all starts going right again for Boeing? The events of the past few months have suggested that the Seattle-based airframer might finally have an opportunity to start afresh after three of the most brutal years in its 106-year history. The 2019 grounding of the 737 Max after two fatal crashes has trashed its reputation and, combined with the impact of the pandemic, cost the corporation tens of billions of dollars.
On the plus side, the 737 is back in service and Boeing is whittling back the piles of whitetails it built but did not deliver during its long grounding. Bosses think that the company will be cash-flow positive in 2022. On the other hand, Boeing has suspended the 787 programme over quality issues, its flagship 777X is delayed, and it is losing market ground to rival Airbus in the burgeoning mid-haul, narrowbody market, where extended-range versions of the A321neo are proving highly popular.
Before the pandemic, Boeing had hoped to unveil its NMA, or “New Midsize Airplane”. Fitting between the 737 Max and the smallest variant of the 787 in cabin and range, the aircraft would seat around 250 passengers and be competitive against the A321 and the A330 on long thin routes. However, with Boeing’s balance sheet battered by the twin crises, it looks unlikely that any launch is imminent.
One Boeing 737 operator that some feared might have flown its last when Covid-19 arrived is Norwegian. The Scandinavian low-cost carrier was already in trouble after an ambitious foray into the transatlantic low-cost market proved a step too far. Now, after going into effective hibernation for almost two years, Norwegian is back, announcing this week plans to operate 270 routes this summer, including 54 from its reopened Stockholm Arlanda base.
Another carrier that has defied expectations is Korean Air. Despite the Asia-Pacific market being worst affected by government-imposed border closures, cargo has boomed, helping to deliver the airline record operating profits in 2021. Korean is one of several operators in the region that have prospered from surging demand for air cargo. Taiwan’s China Airlines this week ordered four more Boeing 777Fs on the back of what it said was a record performance for its freight business.
And there was further evidence this week of business aviation’s success in riding out the crisis. Textron Aviation – which is behind the Cessna and Beechcraft brands – said deliveries of business jets and turboprops accelerated during 2021. During the depths of the pandemic, many of the world’s rich and powerful shunned commercial airlines – most of which had suspended services anyway – and turned to what they saw as the flexibility, reliability and security of private aircraft.
Could the post-pandemic period become a golden age for aerospace technological innovation, similar to the birth of commercial aviation in the 1920s and the jet and space age of the 1950s and 1960s? Many believe the urgent drive for more sustainable flying will spur remarkable advances in electric and hydrogen propulsion, as well as new materials and advanced manufacturing techniques, and intelligent aircraft.
Some think whole new segments of aviation will emerge. CAE CEO Marc Parent thinks there could be a market to train 60,000 new pilots for so-called electrical vertical take-off and landing or eVTOL craft by 2028. There are dozens if not hundreds of prototypes being worked on in the urban air mobility sector. Many will not get beyond the drawing board or the testing field, but several are already attracting serious interest from financial backers and edging to maturity.
They include the likes of Volocopter and Embraer’s Eve spin-off, while Airbus and Boeing are both investing in UAM projects. This week, Avolon – one of the largest aircraft leasing firms – installed its founder Domhnal Slattery as non-executive chairman of electric air taxi designer Vertical Aerospace. Vertical said the Irish tycoon’s input would help guide the business towards certificating and commercializing its VX4 prototype.
Another potentially new – or at least reborn – market is faster-than-sound commercial flight. Although one of two prominent innovators in this space – Aerion – went bust last year, its rival Boom Supersonic continues to develop its planned Overture jetliner, and this week announced Greensboro in North Carolina as the location for its manufacturing site. Boom intends to start production in 2024 with the aim of flying passengers faster than Mach 1 by the end of the decade.
Finally, there have been lots of unintended consequences from nearly two years of severely reduced air traffic. One of them seems to be blockages of aircraft systems caused by insects making a home for themselves. Nests of wasps and other species have been found in the pitot-static tubes of eight British Airways and Virgin Atlantic aircraft within six weeks at London Heathrow, and investigators believe changes in air quality and lower noise during the pandemic could be behind the infestations.
welcome aboard the new airside
We took our community to the next level with an elevated look, innovative features, and new tools.