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caption: A Boeing employee works on a 737 MAX on Monday, December 16, 2019, in Renton.
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A Boeing employee works on a 737 MAX on Monday, December 16, 2019, in Renton.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Boeing hit by first annual loss in 20 years in 737 Max crisis

The Boeing Company said Wednesday that it has suffered its first annual loss in more than 20 years.

Overall the company said it lost about $636 million last year, with revenue dropping to about $77 billion from $101 billion a year earlier.

At the heart of Boeing's crisis, questions about company culture

But the drop in revenue from the commercial airplanes division was more dramatic -- 44% -- from $57.5 billion to $32.3 billion. Overall, commercial airplanes suffered huge expenses, triggering a loss of $6.7 billion.

Boeing blamed the grounding of the 737 Max for most of the decline, with expenses now topping $18 billion.

But the company also said that it was cutting production of the 787 Dreamliner for a couple of years. Currently, 14 of those planes are assembled each month, seven in Everett and seven in South Carolina. That will drop back to 10 per month.

CEO Dave Calhoun has only been in that seat for a few weeks, and in a conference call Wednesday morning, he tried to assure employees and shareholders that the company would weather the crisis over the 737 Max.

"We believe this airplane is safer than the safest airplane flying today,” Calhoun said. “Every next airplane has to be that way. It has to be that way for Boeing. It has to be went that way for our competitors."

But Calhoun also has to convince the Federal Aviation Administration – and the travelers who may end up flying in the 737 Max. And 70,000 jobs in Washington state count on his success, along with 1,500 other businesses.