Despite 787 Woes, Boeing Encouraged by 2010 Performance

After another year tainted by the continuing public relations disaster known as the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing Commercial Airplanes must have taken some solace from impressive sales and delivery tallies for 2010. The company posted net orders for 530 commercial airplanes during the year, compared with its anemic net total of 142 for the 2009 calendar year. Boeing credited a clear transition from economic recovery to expansion for the robust order tally, and a resulting backlog of 3,443 unfilled orders, compared with 3,375 a year earlier.

BCA delivered 462 airplanes last year, more than meeting company guidance of 460 deliveries. Of those, Boeing 737s accounted for 376 deliveries´┐Żsetting a record for the single-aisle family for the second consecutive year. Meanwhile, Boeing drew net firm orders for 486 of its popular narrowbodies.

In an effort to meet further expected demand increases, Boeing announced a series of production rate increases throughout its product line last year. Plans call for the 737's production rate to grow from 31.5 to 35 per month in early 2012 and again, to 38 per month, during the second quarter of 2013. The company plans to raise 777 production rate from five to seven per month by the middle of this year, followed by another increase, to 8.3 per month in the first quarter of 2013.

Plans for the troubled 787 program, however, remain unclear, as the company remains conspicuously quiet about the progress of engineers' efforts to return the six flight-test airplanes to certification testing after a fire broke out in ZA002 while on approach to Laredo, Texas, on November 9.

Boeing resumed limited flight-test activities on the 787 on December 23. The company installed an interim version of updated power distribution system software and conducted a set of reviews to confirm the flight readiness of ZA004, the first of the six flight-test airplanes that returned to flight. As of early this week two of the six 787s had resumed flying, and the company continued ground testing as part of the certification program. It said it would perform additional ground testing on the production version of the airplane to further verify performance of the changes it made.

"As we return to flight test and determine the pace of that activity, we remain focused on developing a new program schedule," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program. "We expect to complete our assessment of the program schedule in January." During the year Boeing flew the six 787s a total of more than 2,400 hours.

Meanwhile, Boeing continues to target mid-year for first delivery of the 747-8 Freighter and first delivery of the 747-8 Intercontinental for late this year. That program's flight test aircraft flew more than 1,500 hours last year.

The company said it expects to provide 2011 commercial airplane delivery guidance when it releases year-end earnings on January 26.