GT Voice: Boeing adding new woes to a prolonged recovery
Published: Feb 22, 2021 08:53 PM

Boeing 737 Max airplanes Photo: VCG

Following a new wave of groundings of Boeing-777 planes, Boeing appears to have a longer and bumpier road to business recovery before the top aircraft maker can stand from the shadow of the 737 MAX crashes.

US and Japanese civil aviation regulators have ordered their domestic airlines to ground dozens of Boeing 777 jets powered with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines on Monday, while Korean Air Lines also announced to suspend the use of its 777 fleet equipped with the same type of engines. 

The groundings came on the heels of a PW4000 engine failure that caused an emergency landing of a United Airlines flight in the US on Saturday, with the actual circumstances of the incident gradually coming to light. 

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the aircraft has only a small number of operators in the US, Japan and South Korea. So the grounding this time won't be as widespread as the one following the two fatal crashes of 737 MAX planes.

But it is important to note that Boeing has been quick to respond by offering the grounding recommendation. Such a quick response may have something to do with the public impression that tends to link any safety problem with Boeing aircraft to the 737 MAX tragedies.

However, the new wave of groundings could be another blow to Boeing, which has yet to recover from the 737 MAX woes.

As one of the world's two major passenger aircraft manufacturers, Boeing has a dominant role in the global airline supply industry. With regulators in the US and Europe lifting the ban on Boeing 737 MAX, it is trying to emerge from a public relations disaster. 

But still the manufacturer may be facing a challenging situation in the months to come. With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the 737 MAX woes, Boeing just had its worst year for net aircraft sales on record in 2020. The company logged orders for 184 aircraft and delivered 157 planes, with customers cancelling orders for more than 650 planes. While its major rival, Airbus, was also hit during the pandemic, it still fared much better than Boeing. In 2020, Airbus delivered 566 planes and sold 268 aircraft.

The competition between the two major manufacturing giants could be seen as a microcosm of the rivalry between the US and European manufacturing. Whether it is because of the pandemic or other reasons, there is an increasing market perception that the competitiveness of American manufacturing companies has been weakening. This may be an important reason behind the growing protectionism pursued by the US government over the past four years.

While US President Joe Biden will probably take a different approach toward trade and economic policy from his predecessor, it won't be easy to reverse the country's protectionist approach under the current circumstances, even if everyone understands that protectionism cannot fully compensate for the declining manufacturing prowess.

As for the future, Boeing's predicament may spur fierce competition in the global aviation manufacturing industry. Airbus will take the opportunity to expand its advantage and market share, while newcomers like Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China will also accelerate their development. It will be both an opportunity and a challenge for every player, and the key to getting a foothold in the increasing competitive market lies in one's technology and safety record.
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