Boeing (NYSE:BA) lost less money than expected in the third quarter, but the company's outlook served as a stark reminder of how long a post-pandemic turnaround will take.

Before markets opened Wednesday, the aerospace giant reported a third-quarter loss of $1.39 per share on revenue of $14.1 billion. Wall Street had expected a $2.32 per share loss on revenue slightly higher at $14.5 billion.

A Boeing Dreamliner in flight.

Image source: Boeing.

Boeing has been hit hard in 2020 due to the continued grounding of its 737 MAX and the coronavirus pandemic, which has stifled travel demand and caused airlines to slow expansion plans. Boeing finished the quarter with more than 4,300 commercial planes in its backlog, but many of those orders have been deferred and will not contribute to free cash flow anytime soon.

The company reported a $4.8 billion operating cash burn in the quarter, driven by lower deliveries and timing of expenses. Boeing does expect the 737 MAX to be cleared to fly again before year's end, which will allow it to resume deliveries of the planes and cut its cash burn.

Boeing had $27.1 billion in total liquidity at quarter's end, down from $32.4 billion at the beginning of the quarter.

The company said it expects airline passenger travel to need three years to recover, and is downsizing its commercial division in anticipation of falling demand. Boeing has increased its target for staff reductions by 11,000, hoping to bring its total head count to under 130,000 by the end of 2021.

Boeing had more than 143,000 employees as of Dec. 31, 2019.