- Boeing delivered 157 planes in 2020 as its 737 Max crisis was exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
- Customers canceled orders for more than 600 of the company's jetliners.
- In December, Boeing posted new orders for 737 Max planes, as airlines went bargain hunting.
Boeing had its worst year for net aircraft sales on record in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic added to the company's woes, but more interest for its beleaguered 737 Max planes cropped up at the end of the year.
The Chicago-based manufacturer on Tuesday said it logged gross orders for 184 aircraft in 2020, including more than 80 of its 737 Max planes in December, a month after U.S. regulators lifted a 20-month ban on the jetliners following two deadly crashes.
Customers canceled orders for more than 650 planes last year. Boeing removed more than 1,000 planes from its backlog, taking into account orders it didn't think would be fulfilled. That marked the worst year for net orders on record for the company, according to data from Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm.
Boeing delivered 157 planes in 2020, the fewest since 1984, according to Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group.
Boeing shares were down slightly Tuesday after it released the sales data.
The 737 Max grounding and the pandemic weren't Boeing's only problems last year. Additional inspections of the company's 787 Dreamliner planes delayed deliveries of the wide-body jets, which are more expensive than the 737 line. Last month, CFO Greg Smith said Boeing would further trim production of the Dreamliners to five a month from six. Before the pandemic Boeing had planned to ramp up production of the planes to as many as 14 a month, but repeatedly scaled back production targets as demand slipped.
The planes are often used for long-haul international travel, the type of route that has seen demand drop dramatically in the pandemic because of the virus and travel restrictions.
"As we continue navigating through the pandemic, we're working closely with our global customers and monitoring the slow international traffic recovery to align supply with market demand across our widebody programs," Smith said in a press release Tuesday.
Boeing's chief rival, Airbus, is also suffering from the pandemic. It delivered 566 planes to customers in 2020, a 34% drop from the year before. Adjusting for cancellations, Airbus sold 268 airplanes last year.
In December, Boeing had 90 gross orders, including 75 Maxes for European budget carrier Ryanair, one of the airlines that has used the crisis to go bargain hunting as demand for new planes dropped. Alaska Airlines last month said it would upsize its 737 Max order by 23 planes as it shifts toward an all-Boeing fleet.
The company resumed deliveries of the Max planes last month, a milestone for the manufacturer after the grounding. American Airlines, which became the first U.S. airline to restart commercial flights with Max last month, took 10. Boeing delivered eight Max planes to United Airlines, whose Max flights are set to resume in February.
Air cargo has been a relative bright spot during the pandemic as quarantines have helped boost e-commerce and a decline in passenger flights translated to less belly space available air freight.
On Tuesday, Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings announced an order for four Boeing 747-8s and DHL Express said it is buying eight Boeing 777 freighters.
Boeing will update investors on its 2021 outlook when it reports full-year earnings results on Jan. 27.