Then comes geopolitics. With their hubs in Seattle and Toulouse, Boeing and Airbus are among the West’s largest exporters and a rare example of an industry in which China cannot compete. It would be depressing, but not impossible, if safety decisions were influenced by trade tensions. Over time, China and India may insist that the duopoly make more aircraft within their borders, to capture more jobs and intellectual property. That could require a restructuring of how both firms manufacture. Rows over aircraft emissions will further complicate the debate.
Neither Boeing nor Airbus is about to go bust. Any flaw in the MAX 8 will probably be resolved, as battery problems in the 787 Dreamliner were in 2013. Boeing has $12.7bn of cash and bank lines to cushion it from the reputational crisis. Both firms are ultimately backed by governments. In any case, demand for planes will grow. But ahead lie environmental and technological uncertainty, organisational complexity and geopolitical tension. The years of bumper margins may be over.