DUBLIN- One of the most influential leaders in the aircraft industry anticipates that Boeing may face heightened regulatory scrutiny in the event of further production issues, such as the suspected cause behind a door plug blowout on an Alaska Airlines (AS) 737 MAX 9 jet.
Air Lease Corp Executive Chairman Steven Udvar-Hazy expressed his perspective to reporters at the Airline Economics conference in Dublin on Monday, suggesting that if there is another significant problem, “the FAA will stop (737) production,” referring to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, he sought to downplay concerns of a systemic problem, emphasizing that the incident was confined to the Renton plant outside Seattle, where the aircraft was assembled.
Boeing Incident Away From Production Halt
Investigators are examining the possibility of missing or incorrectly fitted bolts during the aircraft’s delivery, a mere eight weeks before the January 5 blowout that prompted a partial grounding.
In an uncommon move, the FAA implemented a restriction on Boeing 737 production, limiting it to the existing levels, last week.
During the conference, Udvar-Hazy, a key figure in the thriving aviation finance sector, urged Boeing to showcase its once-renowned leadership in aircraft design. However, he refrained from explicitly calling for changes in management.
Expressing his views, he stated, “I think where the Boeing board and Boeing management has not paid enough attention is where do we go from here, what is the next generation of airplane? What will Boeing be able to produce that will be a step-change improvement in operating economics to what they have today. So, in that respect, I fault Boeing. As far as fixing their problems, there’s enough written in the media; I don’t have to really comment on that.”
Udvar-Hazy recalled the original launch of the MAX in 2011, which was prompted by the competition with the Airbus A320neo—a response to an unsuccessful attempt by Canada to enter the market.
Both the MAX and A320neo are upgrades featuring more efficient engines attached to existing airframes, with the foundational design of the 737 stretching back to the 1960s.
Boeing had contemplated an entirely new aircraft when Airbus, facing financial constraints with its A380 superjumbo, strategically pushed its rival by securing a massive A320neo order. This maneuver prompted Boeing to opt for the MAX.
Despite competing for sales, both aircraft manufacturers have closely mirrored each other in a series of reactive measures, avoiding the substantial cost of developing an entirely new single-aisle jet. Both companies have acknowledged that a new plane is unlikely before the 2030s.
Delays in New Aircraft Production
Udvar-Hazy, credited with compelling Airbus to rethink its plans for a modest upgrade in the larger jet market, urging the development of the new A350 in response to Boeing’s 787s, acknowledged that the pandemic-induced disruption has strained the supply chain, making it challenging to introduce a new design at the moment.
He emphasized the importance for aircraft manufacturers to first stabilize their factories before aggressively increasing production to meet growing demand. Udvar-Hazy highlighted the significant hurdles faced by manufacturers, engine makers, and suppliers in the current scenario.
Using examples, he cited delays in the delivery of aircraft, such as a 787-10 scheduled for May, originally slated for spring 2020, marking a four-year delay. He noted that delays of a year or more have become the norm for many 737s and Airbus single-aisle aircraft today.
Expressing skepticism, he questioned Airbus’s plan to raise core single-aisle production to 75 a month by 2026, and he anticipated a delay of 16-18 months for the new A321XLR model, a part of Airbus’s production plan.
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