Boeing posts third annual loss in a row as Dreamliner costs hit $5.5 billion

An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner approaches for a landing at the Miami International Airport on December 10, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Boeing hit a key milestone in its years-long 737 Max crisis as a jump in deliveries helped it generate cash in the fourth quarter for the first time in nearly three years.

But it now faces mounting expenses in its 787 Dreamliner program, disclosing Wednesday $5.5 billion in costs tied to manufacturing flaws have prevented Boeing from handing over those new jets to customers for most of the last 15 months.

The manufacturer took a $3.5 billion pre-tax charge for the fourth quarter on its 787 Dreamliners. It expects $2 billion in additional costs after it slashed production of the planes, double its previous estimate.

Boeing reported free cash flow of $494 million in the fourth quarter, up from an outflow of $4.27 billion a year earlier, a milestone Boeing executives previously said they wouldn’t hit until 2022. It was driven by a surge in deliveries last year of the 737 Max after regulators lifted bans on the jets following fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

The company’s shares tumbled by about 2% in early trading after releasing results.

Here’s how Boeing performed compared with analysts’ estimates complied by Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted results: A loss of $7.69 a share vs. an expected loss of 42 cents a share.
  • Revenue: $14.79 billion vs. $16.59 billion, expected.

Boeing lost $4.29 billion last year, its third annual loss in a row as the pandemic and production issues continued to hurt its bottom line. It’s an improvement from 2020 when the company lost $11.94 billion.

For the fourth-quarter, Boeing reported a net loss of $4.16 billion, less than half of the $8.44 billion it lost a year earlier. Sales fell 3% from a year ago to $14.79 billion, lower than the $16.59 billion analysts expected.

“2021 was a key rebuilding year for us, and together, we overcame significant hurdles,” CEO David Calhoun said in a note to employees on Wednesday. “While we have more work to do, I am confident that we are well positioned to accelerate our progress in 2022 and beyond.”

Chicago-based Boeing’s aircraft sales and deliveries surged last year, but handovers of new planes to airlines still trailed European rival Airbus. The U.S. company said it has increased production of the 737 Max to 26 a month, closer to the 31 per month it has expected to produce this year and up from 19 a month it disclosed in its last quarterly report.

But Boeing has been hamstrung by the pause in deliveries of its 787 Dreamliners for much of the past year due to a series of manufacturing flaws, challenging customers like American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines.

American Airlines last month said it would trim its international schedule because of 787 delivery delays. The carrier’s CFO Derek Kerr said on an earnings call last week that Boeing was already paying penalties for the delays and “will compensate us for the losses” if there are additional delays.

“The company continues to perform rework on 787 airplanes in inventory and is engaged in detailed discussions with the FAA regarding required actions to resume deliveries,” Boeing said in an earnings release. “In the fourth quarter, the company determined that these activities will take longer than previously expected, resulting in further delays in customer delivery dates and associated customer considerations.”

Still, Calhoun has said he expects the worst is behind the aviation sector after the pandemic devastated demand for air travel and new planes. Airline executives earlier in January said they expect international travel demand to rebound this spring and summer after travel restrictions were lifted in recent months.

Boeing and Airbus supplier General Electric on Tuesday forecast a 20% increase in revenue this year in its key aviation unit, which produces and repairs aircraft engines.

The company will hold a 10:30 a.m. ET call with analysts, when executives are likely to be quizzed about its production pace, supply chain issues and potential impacts on the company from rising tensions over Ukraine.

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