Boeing Suspends Financial Outlook as It Focuses on Safety

The manufacturer is under pressure to improve quality control after a panel blew off a 737 Max 9 plane during an Alaska Airlines flight this month.

Boeing on Wednesday said that it would not provide a full-year financial forecast, the clearest indication yet that the company is trying to assure customers that it is prioritizing safety amid growing concerns about its popular 737 Max jets.

Even as it announced its quarterly earnings, the company chose to focus instead on discussing quality control. Boeing is trying to stem the fallout from an incident less than four weeks ago in which a hole blew open on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 plane shortly after takeoff.

“While we often use this time of year to share or update our financial and operational objectives, now is not the time for that,” Boeing’s chief executive, Dave Calhoun, wrote in a message to employees. “We will simply focus on every next airplane while doing everything possible to support our customers, follow the lead of our regulator and ensure the highest standard of safety and quality in all that we do.”

With the Jan. 5 incident still under investigation by federal officials, Boeing executives had been grappling with how much to emphasize its efforts to improve safety while also reassuring shareholders about its financial performance. Quality concerns have taken on new urgency after news accounts, including in The New York Times, that Boeing workers opened and reinstalled the panel that blew off the plane, known as a door plug.

The incident terrified passengers and forced the pilots to make an emergency landing in Portland, Ore. It renewed concerns among some aviation experts that Boeing has long focused too much on increasing profits and enriching shareholders through buybacks and dividends and not enough on engineering and safety. Experts raised similar concerns after two accidents on the 737 Max 8 killed nearly 350 people in 2018 and 2019.

The effects of the incident on Boeing’s financial performance are not yet known: The results it announced on Wednesday were for the three months that ended Dec. 31.

In its earnings release on Wednesday, the company said it was producing 737 Max jets at a rate of 38 per month. It had hoped to increase that rate to 42 per month this year, a year-over-year increase of about 100 planes.

But the Federal Aviation Administration said last week that it was limiting Boeing’s ability to increase production of all 737 Max planes, including approving any additional assembly lines, until the company proved that it had resolved its quality control issues.

The company said Wednesday that it lost $30 million in the fourth quarter, an improvement from a loss of $663 million in the same period a year earlier. Revenue rose to $22 billion, from about $20 billion a year earlier.

The National Transportation Safety Board is expected in the coming days to release a preliminary report on the Alaska Airlines incident.

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