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Production, safety issues at Boeing could snarl summer travel

Boeing's slew of problems is having a ripple effect. Experts say those issues could reach through the travel industry, just in time for summer.
Issues at Boeing could snarl summer travel
Posted at 7:16 PM, Mar 13, 2024

Airlines awaiting new fleet deliveries from Boeing say they're being forced to curb expansion plans, potentially affecting everything from hiring to ticket prices. 

The FAA placed a cap on Boeing's bestselling 737 Max jets in January to slow production after a door plug flew off the fuselage of a 737 Max 9 during an Alaska Airlines flight shortly after takeoff from Portland, Oregon. 

This week, Boeing said it shipped only 27 planes in February, including only 17 Max jets. Before the Jan. 5 door plug incident, Boeing had been shipping 38 Max planes per month, and hoped to expand production this year. 

This slowdown has had ripple effects across the industry. 

"Airlines order aircraft generally 18 months or more in advance," said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. 

"They're frustrated because they won't be able to offer us all the flights we want and they're frustrated because they won't be able to make all the money they want," he said. 

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Because of the delivery delays, Southwest Airlines says it plans to hire fewer pilots and flight attendants, while United Airlines says it will cut back on hiring pilots this summer. 

Kit Darby, former pilot and aviation consultant, believes the snarls could be overblown. He says because the economy is doing well, airlines are profitable and want to expand on their success by adding more routes and equipment, but there  is a caveat. 

"Often they overdo that and we end up with too much supply, and airlines lose money and are in trouble ... pulling in the reins on equipment, personnel, those aren't necessarily bad things," he said. 

Boeing's rival Airbus is also having issues — a problem with engines has slowed down its production as well. With the two biggest airplane makers in the world facing production hurdles, airlines can't expand at the pace they would like to. 

Harteveldt says that could throw a wrench in summer travel plans for the flying public. 

"It may mean fewer flights and fewer seats available ... that leads to fewer, generally fewer fares sold at the cheapest price points," he said. 

Relief may be a few years away. Delta's CEO told Bloomberg that it expects deliveries of Boeing's new 737 Max 10 plane may be delayed for three years. That plane has not yet been certified by the FAA. 

Both Harteveldt and Darby say Boeing's planes are incredibly safe, adding that airlines can rely on maintaining older airplanes until new fleets arrive. 

While all of Boeing's planes in service are cleared to fly, the FAA has ordered Boeing to submit a plan addressing its production issues by late May. 


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