General Electric (NYSE:GE) said Wednesday that "given what we see today" the company expects to generate positive free cash flow in 2021, a reverse from an expected cash burn this year.

GE entered 2020 in the early stages of what is likely to be a multiyear turnaround, attempting to pay down a massive debt burden and reverse issues in its energy and other units. Aviation was expected to be one of the positives of the portfolio, but the COVID-19 pandemic has grounded airlines and slowed growth in the aerospace sector.

GE GE90 engine.

Image source: General Electric.

In May, General Electric warned investors should expect negative free cash flow in 2020 due to the pandemic.

GE in an investor update posted to its website said that "while uncertainty around the pace of recovery in our key end markets remains, we are watching key leading indicators closely, are focused on things we can control, and should achieve positive free cash flow in 2021 given what we see today."

The company notes that aircraft departures in China and air freight shipments are trending up, positive signs for engine sales and maintenance.

GE said its aviation business "is well positioned to manage through this pandemic and emerge stronger on the other side" in part because its engines are popular with the smaller narrowbody aircraft favored by airlines for domestic routes. Because domestic travel is likely to rebound well before international flying, those engines should be back in service first and feel the initial impact of a recovery.

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