American Airlines threatens to cancel some Boeing Max orders

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 25, 2020, file photo, American Airlines jets sit idly at their gates as a jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. American Airlines and four smaller carriers have reached agreement with the government for billions more in federal loans, a sign of the industry’s desperate fight to survive a downturn in air travel caused by the virus pandemic. The Treasury Department said Thursday, July 2, 2020, that it had finalized terms of new loans to American, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and SkyWest Airlines. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

DALLAS — American Airlines is warning Boeing that it could cancel some overdue orders for the grounded 737 Max unless the plane maker helps line up new financing for the jets, which has become more expensive as the coronavirus pandemic has crippled airlines, according to people familiar with the discussions.

American had 24 Max jets before they were grounded in March 2019. It has orders for 76 more but wants Boeing to help arrange financing for 17 planes for which previous financing has or will soon expire, according to three people who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks between the companies.


If the companies can’t reach an agreement, American could use Max financing that is about to expire to pay for jets from Boeing archrival Airbus, one of the people said.

Boeing said in a statement that it is working with customers during “an unprecedented time for our industry as airlines confront a steep drop in traffic,” but did not comment on the talks with American. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline declined to comment.

News of American’s threat to cancel some orders was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The situation underscores the strain facing airlines during the coronavirus pandemic. It has grown more difficult and expensive for them to finance planes. American’s negotiating stance doesn’t reflect a loss of confidence in the plane’s safety, the sources said.

Boeing took more than 5,000 orders for the Max before crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people and led regulators around the world to ground all Max jets.

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded Boeing’s problems by causing a sharp drop in air travel and a loss of interest in new planes. Nearly 40% of the world’s passenger jets are idled, according to aviation data supplier Cirium, as most airlines have more planes than they need until travel recovers.

That has made it more difficult to finance planes. United Airlines and Southwest Airlines found foreign lenders who agreed in April and May to buy Max jets and lease them to the airlines, but those carriers are in stronger financial situations than American.

American has accepted $5.8 billion in federal aid to pay workers, reached tentative agreement on a $4.75 billion federal loan, and lined up billions more in available cash from private lenders to survive the travel downturn.

Air travel in the U.S. fell about 95% from the beginning of March until mid-April. Traffic has recovered slightly since then, but remains down more than 70% from a year ago.