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This Is a Year to Forget, but Boeing’s 2021 Isn’t Looking Great Either

Even after the 737 MAX gets cleared for takeoff, the plane maker will have a hard time delivering it to customers

It seemed difficult to imagine a worse year for Boeing BA 2.80% than 2019—until 2020 came along. What should worry investors now is that the long-awaited 2021 return to grace is slipping away.

On Wednesday, the Chicago-based plane maker reported a $466 million loss for the third quarter. Revenues came in 29% lower due to the Covid-19 crisis, even though the prior-year period was itself badly hit by the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX jet in March 2019. However atrocious, the results were better than analysts were expecting: Boeing stock fell about 3% in afternoon trading, in line with the broader equity market’s poor performance Wednesday.

Like other companies in the aerospace industry, Boeing is taking steps to cut costs to face years of depressed travel demand. It is closing the original 787 Dreamliner assembly line in the Seattle area; the model will only be made in the lower-cost South Carolina plant from mid-2021. And Chief Executive David Calhoun wrote to employees Wednesday that a further 11,000 jobs will be cut by the end of 2021. He also plans to get rid of 30% of office space, echoing what peers such as Raytheon have said.

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Airbus Stems Cash Losses, Warns of Delayed Recovery

World’s largest plane maker has moved back its narrow body ramp up plans by three months

Airbus stemmed an outflow of cash in the third quarter as it learned to navigate an industry reeling from the pandemic, but also said the aviation market’s recovery would start later than initially forecast.

The world’s largest plane maker posted a positive free cash flow of €600 million, equivalent to $705 million, as it started delivering more planes. Amid a sudden drop in traveler demand, airlines have moved to delay, defer or cancel orders for new jets. Airbus and rival Boeing Co. have reduced production levels to adjust.

However, Airbus was making more planes than it could deliver, hitting cash flow, as airlines typically pay most of the cost of a new jet upon delivery. Airbus still has finished planes awaiting delivery, but the company was able to reduce the number by around 10 aircraft to 135.

Airbus burned through €4.4 billion in each of the first two quarters of the year. It set a target for free cash flow to be at least break even in the fourth quarter, its first guidance since the start of the pandemic.

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The Airbus A320 Has Become Aviation’s Last Refuge

The European plane maker will increase production rates of the short-haul workhorse next year, throwing a lifeline to a battered industry

When it started flying in 1987, Airbus’ A320 seemed like a moonshot project from an upstart plane maker, with little chance of challenging the supremacy of the Boeing BA 2.97% 737 on short-haul flights. Skip to 2020, and it is one of the few products keeping the aviation industry afloat.

This week, Airbus reported positive cash flows for the third quarter as plane deliveries resumed. The European company shipped 145 commercial aircraft, compared with 28 for its U.S. rival Boeing. While the Airbus number was still down 20% from a year earlier, it is an impressive figure in a pandemic. Global air traffic remains stuck at half of 2019 levels, giving airlines little reason to take on planes.

The workhorse A320 family stands behind Airbus’ resilience. At this pace, it could amount to 63% of combined deliveries from both plane makers this year, compared with 39% in 2018—before the grounding of Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX. Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury confirmed reports that A320 production rates will start to ramp up from 40 to 47 a month in the second half of next year.

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Airlines’ New Pricing Strategy: Buy One, Get One Free

Airlines give away seats as they try to stop the cash burn and make travelers feel comfortable flying again

Airlines are resorting to a new tactic in navigating the pandemic-inspired collapse in travel: They are giving seats away.

Alaska Air Group Inc. ALK +2.77% ran 48-hour sales in August and September, offering an entire three-seat row for the price of a single ticket. Europe’s biggest airline, budget carrier Ryanair Holdings RYAAY +3.09% PLC, offered 2-for-1 specials for flights through mid-December. Southeast Asia’s AirAsia brand earlier this year sold “unlimited passes,” allowing customers in some markets to travel as much as they wanted for a few months.

The deals can drum up demand and get travelers comfortable with flying again. They are also keeping at least some cash coming in the door, as airlines keep much of their fleets parked. Alaska Airlines usually runs 10 to 12 big promotions a year; it has recently been offering three a month.

Alaska Airlines was already keeping the middle seat open for social distancing. Its buy-one-get-one-free offer allows a pair of passengers traveling together to get their own row for the price of a single seat. On days when the Seattle Seahawks play at home, the airline, which is based in that city, offers discounts of as much as 40% depending on how many touchdowns quarterback Russell Wilson makes. Overall during the third quarter, Alaska Airlines said ticket prices were down 17%.

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