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Strange but true: American's Ch. 11 filing is good for Boeing and Airbus

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Boeing chairman, president and CEO Jim McNerney last week provided an interesting (if unsurprising) insight into the often strange world of commercial aircraft transactions. When discussing the company's 2011 earnings with analysts and reporters, he was asked about American Airlines' commitment for 200 Boeing 737s including 100 re-engined 737 MAX aircraft (one of Boeing's most high-profile commitments from an airline customer). After all, American is mired in bankruptcy.

McNerney responded that the carrier's Chapter 11 filing is good news for Boeing. "Chapter 11 probably strengthens the likelihood of that [order] being [firmly] booked," he explained. "American will emerge from that process more able to execute those orders than if they hadn't gone through it."

Of course, McNerney is making perfect sense. Indeed, American considers the pending 737 order (which is coupled with a commitment for 260 Airbus A320 family aircraft including 130 re-engined A320neos) as its trump card in the bankruptcy process. The unprecedented financing terms offered by Boeing and Airbus last July (the manufacturers will finance at least the first 230 of the 460 total aircraft) were designed with the strong possibility of an American Chapter 11 filing in mind. The massive split order is largely protected from the bankruptcy process and, as McNerney points out, a leaner American with less debt and lower costs is more, not less, likely to be able to take delivery of new aircraft. Airbus probably feels similarly about its side of American's narrowbody fleet renewal.

But it certainly says something about the byzantine world of commercial aircraft sales that a key customer falling into bankruptcy is a positive for the major aircraft manufacturers.

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