Boeing's 2009 reflects 2008

The Boeing Co. delivered 106 more airliners in 2009 than the year before, but that doesn't mean business was better.

Rather, what the number shows is the effect the two-month-long strike in 2008 had on production at the company’s Puget Sound-area aircraft factories.

New figures from Boeing show that the company delivered 122 jetliners in the fourth quarter of 2009 compared with 50 in the same quarter of 2008. That production figure brought yearly production for 2009 to 481 aircraft compared with 375 for 2008.

That annual production was within Boeing’s predicted range of 480 to 500 jets for the year.

The question most Wall Street analysts are asking is whether the company will sustain that pace in 2010. On the basis of Boeing’s predictions, the company should be able to at least match its 2009 production this year.

The company has announced it will cut production of its 777 twin-engine jumbo jet from the present seven a month to five a month in June, but it intends to keep assembly of its popular 737 moving at a pace of 31 a month in Renton.

The company should also gain some production from its 787 Dreamliner, which will begin deliveries late in the year if flight testing goes according to schedule.

The aircraft maker will suffer some production drops, because the 747 jumbo jet is transitioning to a new version, which won’t be delivered to customers until 2011.

While some analysts suggest that 737 production could fall later this year if passenger traffic doesn’t revive, Boeing noted that it still has 2,076 orders for the 737, 51/2 years of production even if airlines never order another of the popular jets. The 737 was the most frequently ordered Boeing jet last year with 197 new orders.

Overall, Boeing’s order book had its worst year in the last 15 with just 142 net orders in 2009. Net orders are total orders minus cancellations.

The 787 Dreamliner, its production and testing running nearly 21/2 years behind schedule, suffered a net loss of 59 orders in 2009, but the plane still has 851 orders on the books. The first production airplane is yet to be delivered.

The 787 is so popular that Boeing last month broke ground for a second assembly line in North Charleston, S.C., to bolster production. Once the primary 787 Dreamliner assembly line in Everett gets up to speed, it is expected to produce 10 787s a month. The South Carolina assembly line will produce three Dreamliners monthly.

Until the Charleston factory is running, Boeing is creating a temporary second assembly line for the 787 in Everett, where it builds all of its other wide-bodied airliners.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663