'No change' for Chinese lessor's 737 Max orders

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China Aircraft Leasing Group Holdings, a Hong Kong-listed aircraft leasing company, denied earlier media reports about its plan to suspend its order of 100 Boeing 737 Max aircraft and said on Tuesday that there were no plans to stop payments related to the purchase.

The planes, whose manufacturer Boeing is facing lawsuits following the fatal crashes of two 737 Max jets less than half a year apart, are set to be delivered to the aircraft leasing company between 2023 and 2025.

"We are in close communications with Boeing, and there is no change on the orders for the moment. Currently, we don't have any 737 Max in our fleet, so it doesn't have any impact on our operations," the aircraft leasing company said.

Meanwhile, ICBC Leasing, China's largest aircraft leasing company by assets, said the Boeing 737 series are the mainstream aircraft in the current market. ICBC Leasing has delivered a small number of 737 Max 8 models to its clients.

"Currently, all the aircraft leasing contracts are implemented normally. We will follow the issue closely and keep timely communication with related parties," ICBC Leasing said in a statement on Tuesday.

Ninety-six Boeing 737 Max aircraft have been grounded in China and the country was the first to take the aircraft off commercial flights following the two crashes. The 737 Max is considered the fastest-selling model in the history of Boeing, with about 5,000 orders from more than 100 customers worldwide.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch on Monday downgraded Boeing's stock to "neutral" from "buy" and cut its price target to $420 a share from $480 after the crashes.

The downgrade followed Boeing's announcement on April 3 that it was planning to cut the production of 737 Max jets to 42 a month from 52, starting in mid-April.

The investment bank estimated that delays in returning the aircraft to service will last six to nine months rather than the original forecast of three to six months.

"The reputational loss from these events could erode long-term market share and pricing power of the 737 Max," Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Ronald Epstein said in a research report.

"A six-month delay also means lower margins due to penalties owed to customers, weaker negotiating position with airlines as airlines consider cancellations, and operational inefficiencies from the production disruption."

The downgrade of Boeing's stock follows the crashes of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10 and Lion Air Flight 610 on Oct 29, 2018. A total of 346 passengers and crew died in the crashes. Critics have raised questions about oversight provided by the US Federal Aviation Administration and its decision to certify the 737 Max safe for commercial use.

The cause of the two crashes has not yet been determined, with initial investigations pointing to a malfunctioning sensor. Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing's CEO, said: "It's our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it, and we know how to do it."

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