Then there is Boeing itself. The 737, the first of which took to the air half a century ago, has been a huge seller for the company— the 10,000th rolled off the production line in 2018. In March Goldman Sachs, a bank, estimated that the max may account for a third of Boeing’s overall revenues (including its defence business) in the next five years. Although no max orders have been cancelled so far, Boeing has not booked any new ones either. Further delays, Boeing has admitted, may force it to cut production further—or even shut it down altogether.
The fiasco has already led the planemaker to postpone plans to develop a new twin-aisle plane to replace the ageing 757. Its share price has dropped by 25% in the past five months, wiping $62bn from its stockmarket value. It reported a record quarterly loss of $2.9bn in the three months to June, after it set aside $4.9bn for compensation for angry airlines. It may need to allocate more towards other contingencies. Southwest’s pilots have already sued Boeing for lost wages resulting from cancelled flights. Crash victims’ families are also preparing lawsuits.
Boeing can endure the financial pain for a while longer. Its duopoly with Airbus means that, in the short run, airlines and suppliers have little choice but to bear the costs stoically. Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, appears confident that the max will be flying again before its commercial partners and investors run out of patience.
Many in the industry seem to share this conviction—regulators will not, the thinking goes, jeopardise Boeing’s future because the company is too big to fail. Perhaps. But the FAA, roundly criticised for being slower than other regulators to ground the plane, and earlier granting Boeing wide-ranging powers of self-certification, is in no mood to prove them right.