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Boeing sees uptick in airplane orders as travel picks up

Boeing received 196 orders in March, including the previously announced 100 from Southwest, while losing 156 to cancellations.

Boeing orders picked up in March, fueled by a major deal with Southwest Airlines that helped to offset another round of cancellations for its 737 MAX airliner.

Boeing received 196 orders in March, including the previously announced 100 from Southwest, while losing 156 to cancellations, the company announced Tuesday. Turkish Airlines scrapped most of a commitment for 50 MAX jets, replacing some with options.

The net gain of 40 orders raised Boeing’s first-quarter total to 76.

Boeing orders plummeted over the past two years, first from the grounding of all 737 MAX jets after two of them crashed, and later from a pandemic that brought global travel to a standstill and quashed airline demand for new planes.

Travel is picking up with the rollout of very effective vaccines, but it remains far below pre-pandemic levels. In the U.S., nearly 1.5 million people a day have gone through airport checkpoints this month, down from more than 2.3 million people per day in early April 2019.

Boeing needs sustained growth in travel to drive the market for replacement planes and, eventually, growth at its airline customers.

The Chicago manufacturer delivered 29 commercial planes in April: 19 MAX jets, three 737s outfitted for military use, and seven larger widebody planes including passenger and cargo jets.

It's good news for the company that closed out its worst year ever financially when it recorded a full-year loss of $11.94 billion in 2020.

Three years ago, Boeing's profit topped $10 billion. After losing money in 2019 and 2020, analysts are predicting a return to profitability this year. That will depend on how quickly the pandemic eases enough for travel to recover.