Boeing’s bumper year

Boeing’s commercial aircraft team are heading into the festive break in their best mood for years. Sales of the 787 mid-sized widebody are booming, as are those of the 777; the 747-8, the successor to the jumbo jet, has finally been launched with significant orders; production of the 767 has been reprived; and 2005 looks set to end as the manufacturer’s best ever year for orders.

The progress of the 787 has been perhaps the most remarkable turnaround in Boeing’s fortunes. As of 21 December, Boeing had clocked 254 firm orders, says programme director Mike Bair. Altogether the aircraft has 364 orders and commitments, with proposals out with carriers for another 500 units.

As Bair says: “The challenge is to build enough aircraft to satisfy demand.” Boeing will deliver a total of 112 787s in 2008 and 2009, but is studying a production rate increase beyond that. The aircraft will fly for the first time in 2007. The list price for the 787-8, the standard size of the aircraft seating from 210-250 passengers, is $145 million, plus or minus $5 million depending on interior configuration, says Bair. The company has not announced a price for the larger 787-9. List prices are simply the starting point of course. As Bair notes: “It’s been a long time since we sold an airplane at list price…probably 20 years!”

Pressure from carriers like Emirates is forcing Boeing to look at a further stretch of the aircraft to around 300-seats in a three-class layout. “They have not been shy about their desire to have an aircraft bigger than the -9,” says Bair. The company is leaning towards this second stretch. “My guess right now is that it is very likely something we’ll end up doing,” he says. If Boeing does go ahead with the “787-10″, it would not start to be delivered before 2012.

“The real issue on timing is figuring out exactly what it is,” says Bair, noting that there are a lot of trades to be made in terms of the range of the aircraft and how large it will be. “We haven’t done enough of that work to know what we will be selling somebody yet,” he says.

The company is also unconcerned about whether a larger 787 will begin to compete with the smaller 777s, he says. If customers want a Boeing product they should be able to buy it, he explains. “To try and finesse that is probably not a good idea,” he says of the suggestion that Boeing could hold back on 787 development to sustain 777 sales.

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