Boeing delivered today the first 737 aircraft produced at the new rate of 35 aircraft a month to aircraft lessor AWAS, marking the highest production rate ever achieved for the narrowbody programme.
The airframer plans to grow the rate to 38 a month in the second quarter of 2013 and to 42 in the first half of 2014. Beverly Wyse, VP and general manager of the 737 programme, indicated to Boeing employees that the rate could go up to 60 in the future. However, she later told FlightglobalPro that this was not a definitive announcement of Boeing policy and remains only a prospect based on market demand.
AWAS' new 737 -- the 35th aircraft built on the new rate schedule -- will be leased to Norwegian Air Shuttle, said Boeing.
Production rates for the 737 have increased more than 150% since 2003, Wyse said. She noted that the aircraft received by AWAS was the smoothest of any rate ramp-ups, encountering only three shortages and eight instances in which work was not completed in position.
Wyse gave credit to Boeing's labour union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), for its role in ensuring the smooth transition to the higher rate. Late last year, Boeing and the union agreed on a new four-year contract extension, following months of tumultuous relations between the two parties.
"This success could not be done without the partnering of IAM and SPEEA," said Wyse, referring to the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which represents Boeing's engineers. "The new partnership with IAM means more successes ahead."
SPEEA's contract with Boeing becomes amendable in September, with negotiations to begin this year.
Wyse noted that there is a forecasted need for more than 23,000 single-aisle airplanes in the next 20 years. She predicted Boeing will capture half of this market.