Announcing the initiative in December 2012, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner says the move will “clarify responsibility, streamline decision-making and accelerate our progress” as the company tackles development of the 787-9, first flight of which is due in 2013 along with final design freeze of the 737 MAX. Boeing is simultaneously developing the KC-46A tanker for the U.S. Air Force and, assuming sufficient orders, is likely to launch the “double-stretch” 787-10X by mid-2013. Last, but not least, Boeing is expected to put renewed focus on its longer-term plans to develop the proposed 777X derivative.
Airplane Development will lead the design, development, certification and testing of the new products. The integration of new aircraft into Boeing's production system will be managed by Airplane Programs, which will oversee management of profit and loss for each program.
Boeing is already in the midst of rate increases across all lines. Since late 2011 the company has ramped up production by around 15%, and over the next 18 months will increase the rate by a further 25%. The plan sees 737 production rising to 38 a month in the second quarter of 2013, on its way to 42 a month by 2014, with the 777 to 8.3 by early in 2013 and the 787 to 10 a month by year-end. The 767 line is stabilizing at two per month as it transitions to the KC-46A. Boeing has no plans to alter its two-per-month rate for the 747-8, despite ongoing softness in the freighter market.
The key priorities facing Boeing in 2013 center on ensuring a smooth transition to the MAX and a correct product-development strategy for the 777X. With 787 assembly woes now largely behind it, and deliveries accelerating, the challenge is to ensure the company's two cash cows continue to flourish in the single- and twin-aisle markets.
The coming 12 months are also particularly important for Bombardier, now that the Canadian manufacturer has pushed first flight of the CSeries to the middle of the year. Postponement from late 2012 not only delayed entry-into-service of the baseline CS100 to mid-2014, it sparked yet more CSeries criticism, with detractors adding supply-chain concerns to the perennial arguments of weak sales and stiff competition from Airbus and Boeing.
The loss of an expected launch order for a 160-seat high-capacity variant of the CS300 from AirAsia Group only compounded Bombardier's year-end woes, although the airframer is adamant CSeries sales will materialize and that its current backlog is adequate for a clean-sheet launch.
China's Comac C919, by far the biggest Asian commercial-aircraft development effort and most serious challenger to Airbus and Boeing, is unlikely to make its scheduled 2014 first flight or its 2016 first delivery. Achieving the schedule is theoretically possible but not likely, say industry executives. Backed by abundant support from the Chinese state, however, the program is moving steadily forward.
The C919 is expected to be about as efficient as the re-engined A320 and 737, if Comac performs to target. That will still leave the state-owned company with the challenge of persuading airlines it is a dependable supplier. Few, if any, of the 380 announced orders meet the Western criteria for definitive contracts. The C919's predecessor, Comac's ARJ21 regional jet, is now expected to be certified in 2014 after 12 years of development and its technical competitiveness is declining. Despite the delays, the aircraft is still listed as having more than 300 orders and commitments.
New scope provisions emerging at U.S. carriers, while failing to bring a rush of 80- to 90-seat orders, could provide some respite for Bombardier's beleaguered CRJ line in 2013. But the small number of 70- and 76-seaters needed by the U.S. majors will be dwarfed by several hundred 50-seat retirements to begin later in the year as the legacies, notably Delta, eliminate unprofitable feeder routes.