Boeing eyes production ramp for development programmes

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Boeing expects to deliver 35 to 42 787s in 2012 and a similar number of 747-8s as part of its new development programme forecast of 70 to 85 deliveries.

Last year, despite higher forecasts throughout 2011, it handed over just nine 747-8 Freighters and three 787s.

Boeing's steep production ramp up continues on the 787 programme. It is currently building at a rate of 2.5 per month, with plans to increase this to 3.5 in the second quarter and to five per month by the end of the year, assembling a total of 37 to 40 aircraft in 2012.

The airframer cautions that its production rates will differ from its delivery rates, however.

Of the 35 to 42 787s expected to be handed over to customers in 2012, one-third will be largely free from post-certification rework, a target expected to be achieved mid-year by an aircraft with a line number in "the mid-60s", said Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, confirming Airplane 63 will be the company's first "right to preflight" aircraft.

The company is expected to begin final assembly of Airplane 57 at its Everett, Washington line in late January.

The remaining two-thirds of 2012 deliveries will be aircraft that are already assembled or will still require significant rework, drawn from a block of more than 45 aircraft at various states of assembly.

"We'll get through a lot of that mountain this year," said McNerney, emphasising a "high degree of confidence in being able to predict when [aircraft] will be done."

Further, Boeing now anticipates first delivery of a General Electric GEnx-1B-powered 787 to Japan Airlines by the end of the first quarter, pushed from the fourth quarter of 2011 after an Air India production test aircraft was slowed by technical troubleshooting.

The test aircraft, Airplane 35, made its maiden sortie 25 January.

This year's doubling of 787 production will include the activation of the Everett surge assembly line in September, said programme sources. The line could even be operational considerably earlier in 2012, sources added.

Production will double again in 2013 as Boeing aims to achieve its rate of 10 per month by the end of 2013.

As it completes introduction of its 747-8 Intercontinental alongside the 747-8 Freighter, Boeing will reach a two aircraft per month rate during 2012.

McNerney disputed that the shape of the ramp up had changed, citing its 10 per month target in 2013, in place since August 2009. However, the company's delivery goals, reflected in its internal Z-plan production documents, show that the bulk of the rate increases have shifted to 2013 as its low-rate production was maintained longer than planned.

The company's latest schedule, Z24, is said to show 49 deliveries in 2012, up slightly from the original 45 after planned 2011 deliveries carried over into the coming year. 2013 will feature 66 deliveries, followed by 119 in 2014. Those figures are down significantly from the Z23 schedule which initially planned to have 61 787s deliveries in 2012, followed by 95 in 2013 and 120 in 2014.

"Once we've demonstrated our ability to successfully execute the planned rate increases, we will consider rates above 10 per month," said CFO-elect Greg Smith. The company is considering "leveraging our buying power by combining purchases on common commodities such as raw material and fasteners," to bolster the programme's profitability, he added.