Falling order backlogs are forcing Boeing to study a production slowdown of the 757 earlier than expected next year.

Boeing plans to deliver 53 757s next year, and has been preparing to cut the rate from the present five per month to around 4.5. But now it admits that some deliveries are in doubt and is warning that end-of-year figures could now be "in the 40s". As a result, production could be reduced to between three and 3.5 per month.

"The truth is we don't know for sure what will happen right now, but it won't be as bad as some have reported" says Boeing. Earlier reports indicated that 757 production will be halved to two per month from next April, with additional jobs at the company's Renton site in Washington also being lost. However, Boeing insists that no more jobs are expected to go over and above the 50,000 already targeted by mid-2000.

The company, which has secured just three new 757 orders so far this year, says "-we are aggressively marketing the -200 and -300, and we believe it has a bright future". It admits "-most of the models will go down in production next year, and obviously we're coming off the peak".

Deliveries of all models in the Boeing range next year is currently expected to be around 480, compared with the record 620 planned for this year. Despite Boeing's reassurances, the dwindling 757 order backlog has given rise to speculation of a rate slow down for some time. Undelivered firm orders stand at 78, of which 10 are the new stretched -300 model. More than half of the firm backlog is made up of orders from Northwest, with 25, and Delta, with 14.

A drop to three per month would represent the lowest rate on the 757 since the 1980s, an earlier plan to reduce to this rate in 1996 having been overtaken by a surge in orders. Production of the twin peaked in 1992 when the rate reached 8.5 per month and 102 aircraft were handed over in one year. The five per month rate was stabilised with 46 aircraft being delivered in 1997 and 54 in 1998.

Boeing confirms that the 767 rate at Everett will be slowed from four to 3.5 per month from next January, but adds that this has been expected for some time given the company's earlier year-end delivery estimate of 42 aircraft. A total of 48 767s are due for delivery by the end of this year. Thanks largely to the 767-400 boost, the backlog for the bigger twin is stronger than that of the 757 at just over 100.

Source: Flight International