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Plane Manufacturing

April 1st, 2022

The past two years have been rocky ones for two major manufacturers of commercial jets, but 2021 brought signs of both a recovery in air travel and an uptick in demand for new jets. Both Boeing and Airbus, who between them make the most popular commercial aircraft currently flying, took serious hits to orders in 2020, as airlines either had to postpone purchases of new equipment or canceled orders outright due to the shutdown of air travel early that year impacting their bottom line.

In 2021, by contrast, domestic flights in the U.S. were packed as travel gradually returned to previous levels. International also began to rebound, although more slowly, as bilateral agreements started to open up limited routes that had previously been closed by COVID-related travel restrictions. The two manufacturers posted substantial gains in both orders and deliveries in the past year, with indications pointing toward continued growth into 2022.

The Picture in 2021

Airbus reported 507 net jet orders in 2021, which does not include two large order commitments that were won but not finalized by the end of the year. [i] Qantas of Australia will be buying 20 A321XLRs and 20 A220s, and KLM will be buying 100 A320neos to replace aging equipment in their current fleets. In addition, an airplane lessor in Florida is ordering 22 A220s, giving the European jet maker a strong start to 2022 sales. The manufacturer reported a total of 611 deliveries in 2021.

Boeing’s sales figures for 2021 finished ahead of its rival’s, with 535 net orders in 2021. That tally, however, included orders that were not, strictly speaking, new—56 had been removed from the official backlog in 2020 when the airlines placing them had been left short of financing, making them unable to complete the transaction. When financing was secured, the orders were restored. The year marked the first year of positive order tallies for the U.S.-based manufacturer after two years of negative numbers. Their delivery total was well behind Airbus’s, with only 340 aircraft delivered in 2021.

Boeing in Recovery

Boeing’s woes began prior to the pandemic, with two crashes of 737 MAX passenger jets within 5 months leading to the grounding of the jet worldwide from early 2019 through the end of 2020. Much of its 2020 negative order tally was a result of airlines canceling or delaying the purchase of MAXs as the flight control issues that had caused the crashes were remedied. With the plane returned to service, Boeing saw repeat orders from United, Southwest, and Alaska, as well as a new order for 50 MAXs from Allegiant.

The company is still struggling to put its troubles behind it, with manufacturing problems producing gaps at structural joins in its 787s and stopping most deliveries of that aircraft in the last year. Their new version of the 777, the 777X, has also faced delays that will push its certification out until late 2023 or 2024. It’s unclear how fast demand for larger planes will recover after the collapse of international air travel, which may further complicate the picture for the large jet. Boeing has benefited, however, from the increased demand for air freight in the midst of supply chain troubles worldwide, selling 84 freight planes in 2021.

Supporting Airplane Manufacturing

For manufacturers gearing up to meet the growing demand for new planes, specialized manufacturing support can be the difference between getting exacting parts made right quickly or losing time and money to avoidable mistakes. U.S.-based Southwest Plastics specializes in molding thermoplastic and thermoset components and manufacturing CNC machined parts for applications where precision and reliability count.

At Southwest, we have decades of experience in meeting the needs of demanding industries such as aerospace, telecom, healthcare, and more. Our expertise in consulting and engineering in the design phase, prototyping and testing, and manufacturing and lead time management will ensure you have the right part at the right time to keep production moving. To find out more about how Southwest can provide the highest reliability, service, and value with quality Made in America parts, contact us here.


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