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Amid 737 Max tests, Boeing fears COVID-19 may cut plane deliveries

Effects of the coronavirus disease adds to the setback Boeing suffered when its 737 Max fleet was grounded last year. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE
Effects of the coronavirus disease adds to the setback Boeing suffered when its 737 Max fleet was grounded last year. File Photo by Andy Rain/EPA-EFE

Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Boeing warned Wednesday that short-term aircraft deliveries could be affected by the outbreak of COVID-19, citing a sharp drop in demand in Asia where the spread is worst.

The Chicago-based aviation giant reported no new orders of its 737 Max passenger plane, and only 13 deliveries in January. With 85,000 flights to, from or within China canceled since Jan. 23, the aviation industry has slowed.

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"I can certainly see that impacting, as a result of the traffic, impacting some near-term, first-quarter deliveries for a lot of us," Boeing CEO Greg Smith said at an investor conference Wednesday.

The COVID-19 outbreak is centered in China and has so far infected more than 40,000 people and killed more than 1,000. It was declared by the World Health Organization a global health emergency on Jan. 30.

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Chinese carriers have grown rapidly and the nation is expected to ultimately overtake the United States as the world's largest travel market. A weakening of the air cargo sector could pose a longer-term problem as trade tensions between the two nations last year prompted the industry's lowest demand for air freight in a decade.

The impact of the coronavirus amounts to more bad news for Boeing, which for a year has been hampered by the grounding of its 737 Max series due to a defect in the flight software. Monday, Boeing flew a 737 Max airliner at Kansas City International Airport as part of testing for its software fix. The flight was the first time the model flew outside the area of Boeing's Northwest campus since the Max fleet was grounded last March.

"The Boeing 737 MAX started flying to various airports on February 7, 2020 to conduct a series of engineering flights with the updated software," the company said. "These non-commercial test flights with a small test team on board will exercise short- and long-haul flights, seeking out weather and altitude conditions that will help satisfy specific test conditions for the updated software.."

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Boeing has said it expects recertification for the 737 Max later this year.

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