Boeing jet deliveries fall to 22 in February; 787s still frozen

SEATTLE, March 8 (Reuters) - Boeing Co said on Tuesday it had delivered 20 of its 737 MAX narrowbodies and two freighters to aviation customers in February, reflecting rebounding travel and COVID-era cargo demand, but its 787 Dreamliner freeze continued.

Six of the 737 MAX jets Boeing handed to customers were for Irish budget carrier Ryanair, while United Parcel Service took one hump-backed 747-8 and German logistics company Deutsche Post DHL added a 777 freighter, Boeing said.

In the same month a year ago, Boeing handed over the same number of aircraft. It delivered 32 jets in January and 38 planes in December.

Deliveries are closely watched by investors, as airlines pay the bulk of money for an aircraft when they pick up new planes from Boeing.

The 737 MAX and the 787 Dreamliner are crucial to Boeing’s ability to recover from the pandemic and catch up with Airbus , having lost the delivery race to its European rival for a third consecutive year.

Boeing also booked 32 orders for 737 MAX aircraft, 18 of which were for Air Lease Corp, and 12 in which the buyer was not identified, the U.S. planemaker said.

Air Lease Corp canceled orders for four 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, Boeing said. Deliveries of Boeing’s advanced twin-aisle jet have been frozen for months as the company conducts painstaking inspections and repairs to address production-related structural defects.

Boeing did not identify the buyer of five 777 freighters booked in February.

Gross orders for the year increased from 77 to 114, or from 75 to 107 including instances when buyers canceled or swapped between models, Boeing said. Adjusted further for stricter accounting standards, orders for the year so far increased from 98 to 179, the company said.

The closely watched orders and deliveries snapshot comes four days after Ethiopian Airlines signed a memorandum of understanding with the intent to buy five of Boeing’s new 777X freighters.

Boeing has said the freighter version of the 777X - the world’s largest twin-engine passenger plane, whose entry to service has been delayed more than three years to late 2023 or beyond, would enter service in 2027.

Boeing is banking on sales of the new twin-engined juggernaut to defend its dominance of the cargo market and head off a challenge from a new Airbus A350 freighter.

As of the end of February, Boeing’s order backlog increased from 4,316 to 4,375. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle)