Boeing CEO to Paris Air Show Crowd: There’s ‘Still No Timetable’ for 737 Max Return
The Paris Air Show, which kicked off today, is an event to talk deals, crow about new orders and show off new aircraft designs, particularly as the buzz around electrification and hybrid-electric intensifies. But the focus on Day One was squarely on Boeing and the state of its downed 737 MAX airliners with a contrite CEO Dennis Muilenburg telling journalists there’s still no timetable for the aircraft to take to the skies.
The company has the difficult task of pitching a 737 MAX future even as global regulators and air-safety inspectors keep the plane on the ground for the foreseeable future in the wake of a pair of deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that the Federal Aviation Administration was nearing a decision to begin flight trials, but company officials declined to discuss whether that means the long wait could be coming to an end. Instead, there were more apologies than promises coming out of Boeing executives Monday morning at the world’s largest air show.
“This is the most trying of times,” Boeing commercial airplanes CEO Kevin McAllister told reporters, according to Reuters. “But without a doubt this is a pivotal moment for all of us. It’s a time to capture learnings. It’s a time to be introspective. And it’s a time for us to make sure accidents like this never happen again.”
Separately, Muilenburg told reporters, Boeing will get MAX “back up in the air when it’s safe. That’s the most important thing.” With so many regulatory checks, there’s growing talk that eventual return of the MAX will be a phased one, market by market, carrier by carrier.
Going into the biennial show, analysts were focusing on the news flow around the lucrative market for narrow-body, long-range aircrafts. Airbus stole the early thunder, announcing Monday morning its new A321XLR, which packs a range of 4,700 nautical miles – think Paris to Denver – and a 30% reduction in fuel burn, will debut in 2023. Air Lease Corp. announced it would buy 27 A321XLR’s, part of a 100-aircraft deal.
Analysts were hoping to hear more about Boeing’s answer to the A321XLR, but none were forthcoming on Day One. The pre-Paris buzz was that Boeing would have a narrowbody long-haul market entrant ready for 2025. But with the MAX fallout dominating executives and engineers, hopes are fading on that timeline.
In an interview with Aviation Week on the eve of the Paris Air Show, Muilenburg said the MAX remains at the core of the company’s future, even if the near-term situation is very much up in the air.
“We’re projecting demand for 44,000 new commercial airplanes over the next 20 years, and the majority of that is in the narrowbody space,” he told the publication. “The MAX will be a very important part of that for decades to come —we’ve got about 4,400 MAXs in backlog. The MAX is our narrowbody product for the future.”
Boeing has over 500 MAX aircraft grounded at airports and its own facilities. It also has over 4,400 orders in backlog to deliver new MAX aircraft, all of which are in limbo until the aircraft gets approved for takeoff.
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—A red flag to investors: The stock market may be hitting the “triple top”
—The Renault deal is dead, but Fiat Chrysler still needs a partner
—Many economists think the next recession will be before the 2020 election
—The S&P 500 has performed far worse under Trump than Obama
—Listen to our new audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily
Don’t miss the daily Term Sheet, Fortune‘s newsletter on deals and dealmakers.