United Airlines Holdings (NASDAQ:UAL) on Tuesday became the first airline to take delivery on a Boeing (NYSE:BA) 737 MAX since the plane was recertified last month, the first step in a long recovery for Boeing and the troubled airplane.

The 737 MAX was cleared to fly in November after 20 months on the ground following a pair of fatal crashes. Boeing's new challenge is to place the more than 400 planes manufactured during the halt but not yet delivered at a time when airlines are cutting back service and looking to cut costs.

A United Airlines plane on the tarmac.

Image source: United Airlines.

Boeing has been dealing with cancellations that exceed orders all year, a trend that continued in November. But the airlines have not given up on the 737 MAX. American Airlines Group (NASDAQ:AAL) is making plans to return the plane to service before year's end, and United has said it intends to put the 14 planes in its fleet at the time of the grounding to work early in 2021.

United confirmed the delivery to reporters. The plane is the first of eight MAX planes expected to be delivered to the carrier before year's end, according to The Wall Street Journal.

American and Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) are also expected to take deliveries in 2020, according to the Journal.

Still, Boeing has an uphill battle ahead of it. The manufacturer will be lucky to work through half of its inventory of stored planes in 2021. Boeing currently hopes to ramp up new plane assembly to 31 aircraft per month by the beginning of 2022, well short of its pre-grounding aim of manufacturing more than 50 per month by now.

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