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Opinion
Brooke Sutherland

Boeing and GE Stare Down an Aerospace Apocalypse

Both companies have been hit hard by the collapse in travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but the pace of recovery will be different.

Any recovery in air travel and demand for new planes will be years in the making.

Any recovery in air travel and demand for new planes will be years in the making.

Photographer: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images North America

The coronavirus hit to the aviation business is as bad as it was expected to be for Boeing Co. and engine-maker General Electric Co., and that is bad enough.

Both companies reported results on Wednesday and the numbers were just ugly. Boeing burned through a whopping $4.7 billion of cash in the first quarter, while GE saw negative free cash flow of $2.2 billion as a virtual halt in global travel demand forced airlines to ground fleets, accelerate retirements of older models and defer deliveries of new planes. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has warned that passenger traffic may not recover to 2019 levels for three years and growth in the world’s aircraft fleet may not resume for several years after that; as a result, the company is cutting 10% of its workforce. On GE’s earnings call Wednesday, CEO Larry Culp declined to take a specific view on when the industry would return to pre-virus levels, but acknowledged it will be a “multi-year recovery” as the company makes deep job cuts of its own.