Global air shows have historically been an occasion when airlines and their suppliers meet face to face and deals get done. The 2022 Farnborough show in England is proving to be no exception.
Boeing and its investors have endured hard times in recent years. The company's troubles started when its 737 MAX was grounded for 18 months due to safety concerns, and the woes continued into the pandemic as airlines quickly reversed previous growth plans.
Boeing was able to fly through the crisis, but the company's debt ballooned by 400% in the process. The only way to pay down that debt is through new plane orders, so investors are watching closely to see how the all-important Farnborough show goes for the aerospace giant.
So far, so good. A day after Boeing announced a massive $13 billion order from Delta Air Lines (DAL 3.60%), it is back with a deal to sell five 787 Dreamliners to AerCap (AER 2.70%) and a dozen 737 MAX aircraft to Aviation Capital Group. Both AerCap and Aviation Capital are aircraft leasing specialists, companies that buy planes from manufacturers and then lease them to airlines.
The lessors have become important customers for Boeing and archrival Airbus (OTC: EADSY) as airlines seek to get airplanes off their balance sheets. AerCap, due to its size and scale, is a particularly vital Boeing partner. With the latest agreement, AerCap now has 125 Dreamliners either in its portfolio or on order.
It is also a sign that Boeing is making progress resuming Dreamliner deliveries after a pause for more than a year while the Federal Aviation Administration works with the company on inspection and safety protocols.
The Boeing recovery has begun, and investors are rightfully celebrating. But although there are clear signs of progress, it is also worth noting how long it will take for Boeing to return to pre-crisis operations.
Even assuming Boeing is nearing a return to normal deliveries of its Dreamliner, the new version of the 777 is years behind schedule and has an uncertain order book. Boeing is also racing to beat a deadline to get a new, larger version of its 737 MAX certified before having to go back to square one and redesign the cockpit.
Airlines and leasing firms are ordering now in part because Boeing needs to move metal, so pricing is favorable. Those orders could trickle to a halt if the economy falls into a recession.
Boeing shares still trade more than 50% below the levels they did at the start of 2020. The most likely trajectory from here is up, but it will take years to pay down that added debt and normalize the business. Those looking to hop on board now should expect a long journey, and if the last few years are any indication, there is a real risk of unexpected turbulence.