Boeing said a “highly compartmentalized” engineering staff is keeping its new programs—the 737 MAX and long-range 787-9—on track even as it tackles battery safety issues that have grounded the world 787 fleet.
Final assembly of the long-range 787-9 and the “firm configuration” check-off for the design of the 737 MAX remain on schedule for mid-year, Boeing CEO James McNerney said yesterday in a 2012 earnings call. First 787-9 delivery to Air New Zealand is set for early next year and the first of the MAXs to Southwest Airlines in 2017.
MAX development “is hitting all benchmarks at or ahead of schedule,” said McNerney, and confidence is “growing daily” that a proposed 787-10 will be launched. However, McNerney would not predict a launch date for the -10, which is to be a stretch of the -9 aimed at higher seating capacity for 3,500 nm regional routes, rather than the 8,000 nm baseline for the 787-8 and 787-9.
McNerney for the first time publicly acknowledged that Boeing is studying an all-composite wing as baseline for the 777X, noting, “We’re just putting finishing touches” on the aircraft’s design before offering it to customers. The 777X is to boost seating capacity to about 400 passengers, up from 365 on the largest current model, the 777-300ER.
“This will be one heck of a composite wing, at a scale that we have not done before, so it’s not without its challenges,” said McNerney, intimating a longer wing span than the current 212 ft.
Counting the 787’s composite wing and previous defense projects, such as the B-2 bomber, Boeing is in its third or fourth generation of designs. That design and manufacturing advantages are “not something I want to give up on,” McNerney said.
Despite weak demand for airfreight, Boeing will stick with a 747-8 build rate of two a month, although that schedule will be reviewed quarterly.
The 787 groundings occurred last month and did not affect Boeing’s strong 2012 performance, which showed notable growth in commercial aircraft and a resilience in defense sales, thanks largely to foreign sales.
Record fourth-quarter revenues of $22.3 billion lifted 2012 full-year performance to $81.7 billion, a 19% improvement from 2011. Operating earnings rose 13% to $7.2 billion, and earnings per share were up 2% to $5.88.