US airlines have recently placed sizable orders for the American-made narrow-body. Now, reports suggest that some of the aircraft in question could be white-tails – already-built but not yet sold planes. 

Boeing has built more than 800 737-8 and 737-9 airplanes. When the 737 MAX was grounded worldwide in March 2019, only around half of the aircraft had been delivered to airline fleets around the world, leaving 460 planes in storage at Boeing’s facilities, freezing $16 billion in inventory. A hundred of these aircraft reportedly became white-tails – aircraft whose buyers withdrew their orders due to unexpected financial challenges.

Within the past year, Boeing reportedly has significantly shrunk the inventory of its 737 MAX planes. In July 2020, the American manufacturer had 100 such planes but now has only 10, the Wall Street Journal reported on June 12, 2021. 

Boeing white-tail problem

The 737 MAX was supposed to be Boeing’s new super-seller. Instead, it has been more of a headache since March 2019.

The jet was grounded in March 2019, following a second fatal crash of MAX 8 within months. The aircraft remained grounded for one and a half years until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally ungrounded it in November 2020. The prolonged grounding translated into massive losses for MAX operators worldwide, at least according to the airlines. 

Besides facing a PR disaster, Boeing was dealing with plenty of disgruntled clients and was even sued for refusing to return advance payments of canceled white-tails. 

Some companies that had ordered but not yet received the MAX deliveries are understood to have succeeded to reach agreements with the manufacturer and canceling theirs without penalties. 

During the global pandemic, when the airlines started struggling to keep afloat, Boeing was unsuccessfully trying to find new owners for the already abandoned MAXs. In October 2020, Boeing reportedly offered Delta to purchase 40 white-tails but the deal was not concluded.

Which airlines could buy white-tail aircraft?

However, reports indicate US carriers did come to MAXs’ rescue after all. The abovementioned publication indicates that at least three US-based airlines, United, Alaska, and Southwest, are looking to add some white-tails to their MAX order books. 

United Airlines became the first airline to take delivery of a new MAX aircraft following the ungrounding on December 8, 2020. Then, in March 2021, the airline ordered 25 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and asked Boeing to move up the timeline of its order, revealing that it would receive 45 MAX jets ahead of schedule. Now, Wall Street Journal reported that a part of this order includes jets from Boeing inventory, while another part of it will be freshly-built aircraft. 

Southwest Airlines (LUV) has also accelerated plans to revamp the fleet by ordering additional 737 MAX planes. On June 8, 2021, the Dallas-based company revealed that it was intensively preparing for domestic air travel recovery when it announced an order for 34 additional Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, bringing its total order book to 234 planes. 

Another major air carrier, Alaska Airlines, updated its commitment to Boeing in March 2021 and brought the total purchase to 120 aircraft, including options for 52 aircraft and lease commitments. The report indicated nine of the MAX 9 variant could be white-tails.