Delays, disasters and a pandemic: A timeline of Boeing's worst decade ever

The company has gone from being the pride of middle America to being the butt of jokes.
The company has gone from being the pride of middle America to being the butt of jokes. Photo credit: Newshub/Getty

What began as a terrible year for Boeing is fast becoming a terrible decade for the legacy aircraft manufacturer.

At Boeing's merchandise store in Seattle, there's one slogan that's printed on everything from shirts to stickers: "If it's not Boeing, I'm not going."

Such was the pride and confidence in this all-American brand, people would not only wear the slogan, some would live by it.

Things have changed dramatically.

On the latest edition of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, the host said that Boeing's record was so terrible that people won't even wait for something to go wrong before they say goodbye to their loved ones, instead opting to say their final farewells before even boarding their Boeing flight.

It may have just been a low blow on a chat show, but it's a prime example of where Boeing as a brand has slipped in the minds of Americans.

The company's share prices haven't suffered as much as some had expected. On March 1, 2019 - just before the deadly Boeing 737-MAX8 crisis began - shares were trading at US$343.

After falling to a low of just US$93 as the pandemic took hold last year, it has bounced back to a respectable US$212.

But the first signs of trouble started to show back in the early 2000s, following Boeing's announcement of its highly anticipated eco-friendly 787 Dreamliner.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

In 2003, Boeing announced the production of a new Dreamliner aircraft and gave it a launch date of 2008, but numerous production delays meant the first commercial flight using the Boeing 787 didn't take off until late 2011.

Delays, disasters and a pandemic: A timeline of Boeing's worst decade ever
Photo credit: CNN

Then the issues never stopped once the aircraft was in service, with some starting to refer to it as the 'Nightmare-liner'.

In 2013, fire broke out onboard a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 at Boston Logan International Airport after the aircraft's lithium-ion battery caught fire.

Later that year, the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Japan's transport ministry all launched investigations into the aircraft's design and safety.

In a chilling podcast, John Barnett - who had worked as a quality manager for 30 years at Boeing - said he left the company due to concerns over the Dreamliner's safety. 

Window Seat View in the Aircraft
Photo credit: Newshub

Barnett said he would "change flights before I would fly a 787. I've told my family, please don't fly a 787."

Boeing 737-MAX

At launch, this aircraft was labelled the key to Boeing's future success, but within two years it had become the deadliest modern airliner ever built after being involved in two fatal accidents which killed a total of 346 people.

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 18: Boeing 737 Max airplanes sit parked at Boeing Field on November 18, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today cleared the Max for flight after 20 months of grounding. The 737 Max has been grounded worldwide since March 2019 after two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.  (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

According to, the fatal accident rate of the 737 Max would be four flights per million. The previous version of the 737, which has been flying for a lot longer than the 737 Max, has a fatal accident rate of 0.2 fatal flights per million.

Authorities around the world including the US grounded the aircraft in March 2019 and that grounding lasted 619 days. It's estimated the cost to Boeing is at least US$60 billion.

Documents obtained by Reuters revealed staff at Boeing had told management well before the two fatal crashes that they would never let their families fly on the MAX aircraft.

Boeing 777X

When it gets off the ground, the Boeing 777X will be one of those aircraft that people want to see with their own eyes and fly on for themselves, because it looks so unique.

Delays, disasters and a pandemic: A timeline of Boeing's worst decade ever
Photo credit: Boeing

The aircraft can carry almost as many people as a 747 'jumbo jet', but it only has two engines, making it a lot cheaper to operate. It also has a massive wingspan, and this is the feature that will get people talking, whether it be for or against. The end of its wings can fold up so it can fit into regular sized airport gates. 

But, like the Dreamliner before it, the 777X's production and certification is taking longer and costing more than what was expected, and it is now scheduled to enter service three years late, towards the end of 2023.

At the beginning of the jet age, there was no comparing Boeing to its now main competitor, Airbus.

In the 1970s, Boeing was delivering around 200 aircraft a year, while Airbus delivered as few as four in 1974. Airbus now has a delivery backlog of over 7100, compared to Boeing's 4200.

There are many words that could be used to describe Boeing in 2021: turbulent, bumpy, in need of a change of course.

But if Boeing's board wants to save this historic brand from its worst decade ever, they're going to need to start performing in a way more akin to words like take-off and climb.  

COVID-19 has the industry mostly grounded for now, but as soon as those airports reopen, Boeing will need to go full thrust towards a better future in order to survive.