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PREVIEW-Longer runway, daunting challenges ahead for Boeing CEO

April 27 (Reuters) - Boeing Co’s newly prolonged CEO Dave Calhoun will unveil the U.S. planemaker’s results on Wednesday juggling a barrage of technical and financial challenges under the shadow of mounting political tensions between the United States and China.

Analysts will be pressing Calhoun for updates on the effective re-grounding of part of the 737 MAX fleet over electrical grounding flaws, just as the U.S. travel market is finally rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic.

The grounding issue is expected to drag on longer than Boeing initially indicated, people familiar with the matter say.

Boeing is also facing certification challenges on its forthcoming 777X mini-jumbo, and forensic inspections and painstaking repairs to fix defects embedded in dozens of its advanced carbon-composite 787, which halted deliveries from October until last month.

One of Boeing’s biggest suppliers, engine maker General Electric, said on Tuesday aviation remained “challenged” and beset by volatility, driving its stock down as much as 4.8%.

“Boeing has traded on expectations for vaccine distribution and air traffic recovery, both of which are coming through,” Cowen analyst Cai von Rumohr wrote in a note earlier this month. “But there’s risk of further 787 disruption if international traffic recovery lags, and the pace of the 737 ramp is unclear.”

On the plus side, it completed a hot-fire engine test on NASA’s forthcoming SLS rocket and started production on the U.S. Air Force’s new trainer jet.

Boeing declined to comment ahead of results, which will be reported before the market opens on Wednesday.

Boeing is expected to report a smaller first-quarter adjusted loss of $1.16 per share, compared with $1.70 per share a year earlier, helped by an improvement in aircraft deliveries as airline customers add flight capacity, anticipating a rebound in summer travel.

Optimism in a resurgent U.S. domestic travel market is offset by growing concerns over COVID variants in India and elsewhere, clouding the general industry’s recovery.

Boeing’s flagship single-aisle 737 MAX, the workhorse of the short-haul travel leading the recovery, remains grounded in the rebounding China market, too.

Boeing, which sold a quarter of the planes it built annually to China buyers before the 737 MAX grounding, also faces uncertainty over simmering geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing, which have continued under U.S. President Joe Biden.

Last week, Boeing said it extended its required retirement age of 65 to 70 to allow Calhoun, 64, to stay in the top job.

Calhoun aims to stay in the role until he is 70, insiders say. His decision surprised many in the industry who saw him as a shorter-term crisis manager, and it also triggered the upcoming exit of Boeing’s well-regarded CFO and heir-apparent for the job, Greg Smith, 54.

As it navigates these challenges and others, Boeing has slowed down its study of a potential new plane to counter the threat of Airbus’ A321, which is snapping up orders in a lucrative slice of the travel market.

Highlighting Boeing’s concerns over market share in one of the most important battlegrounds for the next generation of jetliners, Delta Air Lines placed a firm order for 25 A321neo aircraft last week. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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