Boeing 737 Max: Losses mount as Saudi airline cancels order and switches to Airbus

Simon Calder

After two fatal crashes involving the Boeing 737 Max, another prospective customer has cancelled a multi-billion-dollar order for the jet.

In December 2018 the Saudi budget airline, Flyadeal, signed a deal with Boeing worth up to $6bn for 30 of the latest version of the 737 – with an option for 20 more. But the airline has switched the order to Boeing's rival, Airbus, with a new agreement for the the same number of A320 Neo aircraft.

“This order will result in Flyadeal operating an all-Airbus A320 fleet in the future,” the airline said. Deliveries will begin in 2021.

The first Boeing 737 Max to crash was Lion Air JT610, shortly after take-off from Jakarta on 29 October 2018. All 189 passengers and crew died.

But on 10 March 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crashed shortly after departure from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people onboard.

In both crashes, it is believed a faulty “angle of attack” sensor triggered the anti-stall system, known as MCAS. The software forced the nose of the aircraft down despite the pilots’ efforts to keep the plane flying.

All Boeing 737 Max jets were grounded worldwide shortly after the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Boeing is currently working on safety improvements, and it is thought unlikely that the plane will be in passenger service before the end of the year.

Airlines including Ryanair, Norwegian and Tui Airways had intended to be flying the planes from the UK this summer.

The planemaker is continuing to build the jets. In a statement to the Associated Press, Boeing said: “We wish the Flyadeal team well as it builds out its operations.

“Our team continues to focus on safely returning the 737 Max to service and resuming deliveries of Max airplanes.”

Ten days after the Ethiopian Airlines crash, Garuda of Indonesia cancelled an order for 50 Boeing 737 Max.

At the Paris Air Show in June 2019, British Airways’ parent company, IAG, signed a Letter of Intent to buy 200 Boeing 737 Max aircraft.

In the same month, an online survey for The Independent showed that only 23 per cent of passengers said they would be confident in flying on the troubled jet once it returns to service.