yesterday issued a bullish forecast for 2012, setting up the possibility that it will regain the order and delivery lead from .
The company does not predict order levels specifically, but Chairman and CEO James McNerney, in a conference call, described “a robust pipeline” for orders across Boeing’s product line, even in a cooled-off cargo market.
As the new year gets under way, the company reports holding orders and commitments for more than 1,000 737 MAXs; first delivery is expected in 2017. Most of the 1,000 are commitments made late last year. While not predicting an exact number, McNerney says, “The vast majority of the commitments we got last year in all likelihood will be booked this year.”
If that prediction holds, the MAX alone will push Boeing past last year’s net order mark of 805 airplanes.
Meanwhile, McNerney is forecasting solid demand for the company’s other franchises, particularly the 777, which set an order record last year of 200 aircraft. With cancellation of itsprogram, Airbus has no rival in mid-size, twin-engine lift until deliveries of its family begin in 2013. The A350 spans Boeing’s 787 and 777 families, but the largest of the new family, the A350-1000, is not expected to appear until late in the decade, leaving Boeing a wide open field for its popular .
Order prospects for the 787 andare cooler, however. While noting that demand for cargo aircraft has fallen off, McNerney expressed “cautious optimism” about prospects for the 747-8 freighter, passenger aircraft and VIP variants because of the value of their size.
“We have a pretty decent pipeline of planes that we’re working right now,” he says. “Most are decisionable in 2012.”
Major new orders for the 787 are less likely to be bigger news for Boeing than evidence that the company is, at long last, smoothing out production processes for the twin-aisle jet. More than 40 are now undergoing make-up “change incorporation” work.
The company has such a huge backlog, 857 airplanes, and its production slots are sold out so far in advance—beyond 2017—that airlines are likely to wait until the company can stabilize its production situation before beginning another round of large orders.
Boeing is forecasting 585-600 total aircraft deliveries this year. If it achieves that rate, it will likely best Airbus in deliveries for the first time since 2002. It delivered 477 in 2011, three fewer than it hoped.
The 2012 forecast includes 70-85 combined deliveries ofand 747-8s. That is twice the most optimistic estimate for 2011, which was not achieved.
In the end, Boeing delivered only three 787s last year and nine. Originally, it expected to deliver up to 40, split evenly between the two aircraft. But as the year wore on, that forecast was cut to 15-20, with the 747 accounting for about three-fourths of them.
For 2012, it once again is estimating that the 787 and 747 will have about equal delivery rates. About two-thirds of the 787s, or as many as 26, will be aircraft that have been modified to fit changes prompted by flight testing. That work must be performed out of sequence to normal manufacturing, so it is particularly vexing when trying to sustain production rates.
McNerney does not expect the first “clean” production 787 to flow from Boeing’s main 787 factory in Everett, Wash., until the “mid-60s” in line production numbers. The factory is now at Line No. 52.
Boeing is sticking to its plans of boosting current 787 production rates from 2.5 per month to 3.5 by the end of the year and to 10 by the end of 2013.
Achieving that increase will be unprecedented for widebody airplanes, but Boeing will do the work in two plants. The Everett factory bears the biggest burden, seven a month. Boeing’s second final assembly line at a new plant in North Charleston, S.C., will be responsible for three.
Once Boeing achieves 10 per month from Everett and North Charleston, the 787 program will investigate whether its supply chain can support higher rates, McNerney says.