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strategy

Jan 16, 2015

Boeing's measured view of the future may not have MAXed out

Comfortable but cautious, Boeing still talking to airlines about something beyond a 737-9 MAX

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Boeing 737-9 MAX, looking good, selling, less than good

After this week’s Airbus annual media conference Boeing held a Media Round Table which essentially met the same objectives, of providing a detailed senior management review of where it is, and where it sees itself going.

It has also released a transcript of that briefing, which some readers may agree is very interesting, if long.

The briefing doesn’t however give away all that much as to what exactly Boeing may do in the contest with Airbus, which the US plane maker describes as ‘fierce’.

Two reporters carefully considering what Boeing said could easily come to different conclusions as to what it might do. Or not do, as Boeing appears to be very comfortable with its position in the large twin engine wide body market, even though the smaller but structurally lighter Airbus A350 series has now entered service and has a five to six year head start on Boeing if (and this is a big ‘if’) it is nevertheless a competitor to the 777-X series which could enter service before the end of 2020.

This reporter thought the language used in reviewing the 737 MAX program makes it clear it will be focused very strongly and successfully on the 737-8 MAX (and the -200 LCC Ryanair optimized version) and supports the view others have taken that the 737-7 MAX mightn’t even get built, or if it is, it will be produced in very small numbers.

Boeing does seem, to this reporter, to be concerned about the A321 NEO LR, in part because it says it isn’t concerned.

That part of the Boeing review has been highlighted in bold type, in the complete transcript below, for those who embark on this long but thoughtful and interesting journey.

BOEING COMPANY

Moderator:  Wilson Chow

January 13, 2015

8:30 am PT

Wilson Chow:  Good morning and welcome to this Media Round Table. I’m Wilson Chow with Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ Media Relations. I’m joined today by John Wojick, our Senior Vice President for Global Sales and Marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes; along with Randy Tinseth, Vice President of Marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. We’ll start with some opening remarks from John and Randy and then take your questions about 2014 orders and deliveries.

Please be aware as well that we are now in our quiet period in advance of our fourth quarter earnings call, which will be Wednesday, January 28. Because of the rules surrounding the quiet period, we cannot give any guidance surrounding delivery or sales numbers for 2015.

John Wojick:  Good morning, everyone. I’m really pleased to be here on the call today. We’re here to discuss what has been a truly phenomenal year for Boeing in 2014.

For the third consecutive year, we have delivered the most airplanes with the most value to our customers around the world. We had a record-setting year for orders, with 1,432 net orders and 1,550 gross orders, and our backlog is bigger than it has ever been, with over 5,785 airplanes in backlog as of today. These records are really a testimony to an incredible value that our customers place on our products and that we bring to the marketplace, and they’re also really a testimony to the hard work and dedication of all the Boeing people around the world and to our suppliers that support us everywhere in the world. I’m really proud that we’ve accomplished this in an exceptionally competitive environment.

Our customers around the world are expecting more for less everywhere. Our competitor is extremely fierce and we are fighting for every deal around the world. I’m really proud that we’ve won some campaigns this year that I think no one expected us to win, and I think it really validates the value that our products and that our Boeing employees around the world bring to the marketplace, and I couldn’t be prouder.

In the face of this fierce competition, we have achieved some really incredible things this year. We delivered more 737 airplanes than ever before, and in fact, for the first year in a long, long time, we’ve delivered 50% of the single-aisle airplanes in 2014. We also delivered more 777s, more 787s than we’ve ever delivered previously, and in fact, we delivered 63% of the twin-aisle airplanes in 2014, and we outsold the competition by almost three to one on dual-aisle airplanes; truly a phenomenal accomplishment by our teams around the world. So, we have half the market in the single-aisle and more than 60% of the market in twin-aisles, and that’s what market leadership is all about. It truly sets a standard and it speaks to the depth and the quality of our backlog and the quality and capability of our products around the world.

We filled our skylines for years to come, we’ve created a solid foundation for our business for many, many years to come and we’re building on the – we’re going to continue to build on that success for the Company and for our shareholders and for our employees and colleagues around the world for many years to come. I’m really excited about what we’ve achieved and being truly the market leader in commercial airplanes for the third year in a row is really a very proud accomplishment for Boeing.

Now, I’d like to turn it over to Randy and he’s going to make a few comments about the market.

Randy Tinseth:  Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome and happy New Year, by the way. I thought I’d make a few comments on the market, talk a little bit about our products and then John and I’ll take some questions.

First on the market as we look at 2014, I think by every year, a very good year for our customers. We saw passenger traffic grow at about 6%, we saw cargo traffic recover, growing at 5%. That’s a very good year for the cargo market after some challenging years. I think we saw our customers managing their business better than they ever have before. They’ve been focusing on profitability, efficiency, they’ve been taking cost out of their networks, and as a result, we expect to see record profitability for our customers in 2014.

Now as we look at 2015, we expect those trends to continue. Passenger traffic should grow at or above 6%. We expect another strong year for cargo, and with lower fuel prices, we expect a continued tailwind for our customers in terms of profitability. We’re projecting with IATA another year of record profitability for our customers.

On the product front, I think the first thing that I think of is the success we’ve had on the 737 MAX. Not only have we grown our order base to more than 2,600 airplanes, we’ve almost doubled our customer base for the MAX in the last year, going from approximately 30 customers at the beginning of the year to 57 customers at the end of the year. We also had a major milestone in launching the MAX 200 at Ryanair. This is an airplane that is ideal for the low-cost carrier market. It’s an airplane that will provide a 20% improvement in efficiency for our customers of the 737 today.

And then finally, when I think about products, I think about the great success that we had on the 777. We sold 63 777-300ERs and 777 freighters in 2014. We helped work very hard on the bridge between our airplane today and our airplane of the future. We brought in several firsts in 2014; China Southern, China Eastern and China Airlines all took delivery of their first 777-300ERs. In the last two years, we’ve added nine operators, we’ve added 20 operators in the last five years and we’re working hard to make sure, again, that we have a successful transition from our airplane today to our airplane in the future.

I believe when you take a look at our product lineup, it is second to none. We have complete market coverage. We have a family of products that complement each other in terms of their size, in terms of their age, in terms of their economics and in terms of their passenger features and comfort. We’re well positioned for the future. We look forward to 2015, and with that, John and I will gladly take any questions.

Operator: Our first question is from the line of Stephen Trimble from Flightglobal. Please go ahead.

Stephen Trimble:  Hi, good morning. We confirmed this morning, of course, that Airbus will have a new product out in 2019 with the long-range A321 and I’d like to get your thoughts about that, about their aircraft and how, you know, you see the market right now. Do you think there is a market for a thousand of these aircraft out there, and what are you doing in that space?

John Wojick:  Well, it’s interesting that Airbus is talking about a product that – and a market space that Boeing’s been offering product capability in for a long, long time. The 777 – or the 737-900ER has more range capability than the A321 today and if you add fuel tanks in the lower hold, which we do today on our BBJ airplanes, BBJ1, 2 and 3, and the 3 – BBJ3 is based on the 737-900ER, that airplane can fly up to 6,000 nautical miles if so desired. So, it’s interesting that Airbus is talking about trying to catch up to the capabilities that we already offer today in our product line.

In terms of the market size in that capability, it’s an interesting market space between the single-aisle airplanes that we produce today and the 787 in terms of both size of airplanes and range capability of airplanes. It’s a market space that we’re currently looking at in terms of what is the real size of that market space, and depending upon what our airlines working with us really define as the real requirement in that market space, we’re going to look at what we can do in that market space potentially to satisfy our customers. I think it’s more important to look at what the customers are really desiring in that market space rather than just pushing a product that we already make today. Try and satisfy that demand with a product that we already make today. If they were satisfied with that product, they’d probably be buying lots of them today, and they currently aren’t, so it’s interesting.

Randy Tinseth:  Hey, Steve, just to put a little perspective on that, if you take a look at today’s 757, there’s equivalent to about 50 to 60 757s actually flying on those long-range markets today, so the thought of 1,000-airplane market is – of an airplane of that size, frankly, is a little bit laughable.

John Wojick:  But, you know, it’s a market space that we’re looking at. It’s an interesting market space, so we’re trying to understand what the customers’ demands – requirements really are in that market space, and we’ll look at what we do in the future to try and satisfy our customers’ real requirements.

Stephen Trimble:  But it’s – I was getting a little confused. I mean, if you think that the market size is laughable, why would you be looking at it?

John Wojick:  No…

Randy Tinseth:  Let’s put it this way. The market space between today’s ’37 and today’s 787, there is a space there. I’m talking about what’s happening today. Remember the A321 simply, LR is an airplane that catches up to the range capability of our airplane today, so ’57s today flying on those long-range missions are relatively small. When we take a look at that market space between the ’37 and the 787, right now it looks like an airplane that’s probably a little bit larger than today’s airplane. It’s an airplane that flies a little farther than today’s airplane. They’re really two different marketplaces.

Operator:  Thank you. Our next question is from the line of Julie Johnsson from Bloomberg News. Please go ahead.

Julie Johnsson:  Airbus also said today that they’re – they will be adding I think about 20 more seats to their largest A350. Just wondering if you’re contemplating any tweaks to the 777-8X to go after that niche between 350 and 400 passengers.

John Wojick:  I guess I’m trying to truly understand the question. Airbus putting more – trying to put more seats in the same size fuselage is really not changing any dynamic in the marketplace. Customers, you know, select the number of seats in their airplane based upon the comfort level that they’re trying to provide to their traveling public. They haven’t actually changed any of the dynamics of the airplane. We obviously work very closely with our customers in terms of their requirements, both for range capability as well as comfort levels in the airplanes, and we think we cover the marketplace really, really well in terms of both size and range capability in that 300 to 450 seat size category, and we do it with three different airplanes, the 787-10, the 777-8 and the 777-9. So, we have three different airplanes all with different capabilities that allow our customers more choices in that market space to fit the real requirement that they’re trying to address, both in terms of seat size and range capability.

Julie Johnsson:  Speaking of the 787-10, we haven’t seen any orders for that variant for a while and 2014 was a little bit of an off year in terms of 787 orders. Just wondering if you can address the demand that you see in the marketplace and whether we might see more activity this year.

John Wojick:  You know, we’ve seen actually a very – continued very strong demand for the 787. This year, we sold 65 gross airplanes, as well as 41 net airplanes. The only reason we didn’t – we don’t see more is we’re offering airplanes out in 2020 and beyond. We have filled the skylines very solid for the 787, and I think people are, you know, looking at their fleet plans that far out but obviously planning six years out is a very big challenge for any business, and as we progress forward, we’ll see more and more continued demand for 787s. We still have 843 787s to deliver, and we’ve delivered 228 to date, so continued very, very, very strong demand for the 787; and the 787-10, obviously it’s the last family member of the 787 family, and consequently, it has the fewest orders at this point, but we think it’s going to be a very, very strong seller.

Operator:  Our next question is from the line of  John Beards from AFP. Please go ahead.

John Beards:  Thanks for the call. What are you seeing – what is your outlook as far as fuel prices going ahead, and how has the drop in oil prices and fuel prices affected your orders in these last few months and how do you see it going forward?

Randy Tinseth:  Well, I think it’s clear that when you take a look at our order performance in the last few months and you take a look at how our backlog has grown, there hasn’t been an impact of the lower fuel price. I think as we look at the near-term situation, this is clearly going to add some tailwind to the profitability of our customers, which is a good thing. My guess is it will actually help to boost airplane utilization and traffic growth in the next year because some routes that were not profitable have become profitable, and I think that’s good for our customers. I think long term, we expect supply and demand to push the price of oil higher, probably somewhere in that $80 to $100 range over time. I think that’s where our customers believe it’s going, but frankly, no one ever knows where oil prices are going. But ultimately, we see – continue to see strong growth in the market, airplanes are aging out there, airlines have to replace them, they’re in that replacement cycle and we really don’t see any near or potentially medium-term impacts as a result of the fuel price.

Operator:  Thank you. Our next question is from the line of Dominic Gates from Seattle Times. Please go ahead.

Dominic Gates:  I’d like to go back to the launch of the A321 long range. I take your point about the – how Boeing’s products shape up, but in terms of orders, the A320 Neo family is still outstripping the MAX in terms of orders, and where it’s doing it seems to be in the A321 Neo category against the MAX 9. So, the A321 Neo now has 755 firm orders, including 183 last year, and now they’ve launched this new longer-range version. You haven’t released the number of – broken down the number of MAX 9s versus other models but it appears to be about 8% of your orders, just over a couple of hundred, so in that particular matchup, what does Boeing do? The MAX 9 does not seem to be getting customer approval compared to the A321 Neo.

John Wojick:  You know, the marketplace is very competitive. It’s interesting that the Airbus customers are identifying the A321 versus the A320, and consequently, the same thing is true with our marketplace in terms of the 737 MAX 8 and the 737 MAX 9. At this point, your numbers are roughly correct in terms of the MAX 9s versus MAX 8 percentages, but at this point, that’s the way the orders are stacking out. We think we have a very, very competitive product line in terms of the middle of the market. The majority of the orders from both Airbus and Boeing are in that 737 MAX 8 size category. We like where we’re positioned in that size category, and we’ll be very competitive with the 737 MAX 9. It is 80 inches shorter than the competitive airplane, so consequently, they have the capability of having a few more seats in their airplane than we do.

But we outperform them, both in terms of fuel burn per seat as well as range capability of the airplanes, and that’s without putting extra fuel in the belly of the airplane. So, anything they can do in terms of additional range, adding to the capacity of the airplane by adding belly fuel tanks to the airplane, we can offer the same thing.

Dominic Gates:  But why are they getting so much more traction for that size category than you are?

John Wojick:  Obviously, they’re pushing that size much harder than they are the A320, so I’d ask the other question; why aren’t they getting more traction in the heart of the market, the A320 Neo versus the 737 MAX 8?

Randy Tinseth:  I mean, when we look at the market today and we look at the long-term market around the single-aisle marketplace, I mean, the heart of the market continues to be around that 160, 165-seat 737 MAX 8 or the A320, whatever you want to call it. Probably somewhere around 70% of the demand will be there, approximately 20 to 30% in the larger variant, the A321, 737 MAX 9 and probably, you know, 5 to 10% on the lower end of the market. We’re extraordinarily well positioned in that part of the market with the MAX 8, and I think one of the things that I want to emphasize, about 30% of the deliveries we’ve been making on the 737-800 have been at or near exit limit, so an airplane configured around 189 passengers, and with the launch of the MAX 200, we’re able to open up that exit limit to 200 passengers. There’s a big market there, so we expect to see even continued growth and expansion of that middle of the market with the MAX 200 and the MAX 8.

Operator:  Our next question is from the line of Al Scott from Reuters. Please go ahead.

Al Scott:  Okay. Just curious, you lost out to Airbus on net sales obviously last year. What is your strategy? You mentioned fierce competition. Is this a price battle, or can you talk about your strategy on how you’re going to beat them on orders next – for 2015?

John Wojick:  Well, to be quite honest with you, net orders, gross orders is not what we truly focus on. What we’re truly focused on is how do we provide good backlog, solid consistent backlog that actually results in deliveries and delivery market share, because that’s really when we get paid. So, you know, orders are indicative of future performance potentially but the real reality and where the rubber really hits the road is when airplanes actually deliver, and we’re really pleased with the resultant of our backlog in terms of actual deliveries and delivery market share, and we’re very, very focused on adding good quality solid backlog for the Boeing Company to fill our skylines for years to come.

When you look at the 737 MAX in particular, you know, Airbus continues to have a slight advantage in market share versus us on orders. You can look at the same thing for single-aisles in general over the course of time. We have worked very, very hard to get to rough parity at 50% market share this year in terms of delivery market share. You look at what we are projecting for our deliveries going forward, which we have announced in the past, and we are very confident that we have a very solid backlog and we are going to be able to fill those skylines at the rates that we’ve announced, and that’s our objective.

Randy Tinseth:  Yes, just to emphasize – Al, just to emphasize that, you know, I just took a look yesterday at backlog and I looked at it again today. I think Airbus has had a bigger backlog than we have for 14 out of the last 15 years, and I think it speaks highly of the quality, the depth, the breadth of our backlog that we have a product line that is now, three years in a row, delivering more products. So, we got a great backlog, we have the right customers, we have the diversity in backlog we need and, as a result, we’re delivering more airplanes because at the end of the day, that’s the most important measure by which we can be measured.

Al Scott:  Okay, thanks. Can you just follow up on – I mean, delivery is a production function. Your investors care about orders as much as anything. Don’t – you’re basically saying you’re not interested in winning the order battle as long as your factories can churn out more planes than Airbus. Is that what you’re saying?

Randy Tinseth:  Again, it’s about the quality, the depth, the breadth of that backlog and what you’re able to do with it. I mean, you’ll have to ask our investors, but I think what our investors want to see is revenue growth, strong margins, improved productivity, a great full product line; all of those types of things we’ve been able to deliver on that.

John Wojick:  Yes, so it’s – orders are important but it’s not just orders; it’s also quality of that backlog and quality of that order. So, we’re focused both on the quality of the orders, as well as the quantity of the order and not just…

Al Scott:  So, are you saying that if there’s a non-quality order, you’re not going to book it? I mean, that just – I don’t understand what you’re saying by quality of orders.

John Wojick:  We work very hard to do business that we believe will result in actual deliveries come time for delivery, and granted, 100% of our orders do not result in deliveries but we have a much stronger track record of order to delivery completion than our competitor. So, if you focus solely on just winning the order battle, I’m not so sure that’s the only measure of quality going forward.

Al Scott:  Yes. So, you know, it’s clear that ((inaudible)).

John Wojick:  It’s important. It’s not the only thing that’s important to us.

Randy Tinseth:  Yes, so our – yes, like I said, our investors are focused on our revenue growth. Our investors are watching our orders, they’re watching our deliveries, they’re watching our margins, they’re watching our productivity, they’re looking at how we’re investing in our product line, and one thing I forgot that’s very important, they’re also looking at cash generation, and so if we do all those things, we’ll make our investors happy. I think that we have – we’re coming off a great year and we’re looking forward to 2015 in terms of what we can do.

Operator:  Thank you. Our next question is from the line of Steve Wilhelm from Puget Sound Business Journal. Please go ahead.

Steve Wilhelm:  Hi, gentlemen. Thanks for taking a moment here. I just wanted to talk about 747 a little bit. What’s – for one thing, what is your current thinking about 777X orders and to what degree they’re taking up some of that same space? Obviously, Airbus is having its own problems with four-engine aircraft, so what’s your thinking in terms of kind of your internal competition, and also, to what degree does the future of the Dash 8 depend on freight versus passengers?

John Wojick:  Well, obviously, we feel really good about the fact that we have both a freight as well as a passenger model in the very large airplane space, 450 seats or larger, and that’s a very key aspect of our strategy in that market space and we are hopeful that as freight – if freight continues to improve and perform, that will definitely enable us to fill our skylines for the 747-8. Within this marketplace, you know, our forecast is for about – a demand for about three to four – or I should say 36 to 40 airplanes per year in that very large market space. We are at 1.3 airplanes per month or about 18 airplanes per year. We think that’s a sustainable long-term rate for airplanes in the very large category, and we’re working hard to continue that and hopefully a recovery in the freight market would definitely bolster that airplane.

Randy Tinseth:  Hey, and Steve, I want to emphasize, you know, we were very thoughtful and measured and careful when we selected the size of the 777X family. We really wanted to make sure, you know, when we went to market with that airplane, when we launched the market, that we had an ’87 family, a 777 family and a 747-8 family of aircraft that all worked together in terms of their size, range and economics. So, we were thoughtful in how we sized the 777X to complement the 747-8, so there’s really a market space for both of those airplanes.

Steve Wilhelm:  Okay, and just to follow up, you know, most of the – or a big chunk of the passenger orders have been for, you know, individual private VIP planes. What’s – you know, you’ve been saying for years you expect to get more passenger orders and it just hasn’t been happening much. What are your prospects in that arena?

Randy Tinseth:  Look, as you can imagine, the team’s working really hard. It’s a market that hasn’t progressed as well as we or Airbus has expected. We have two commercial customers for the Intercontinental today. We’re going to be adding two more this year. I think the more that airplane gets out in the market, is seen by airlines and it continues to perform as well as it has, I think we’re optimistic about the future.

Steve Wilhelm:  When you say two more this year, do you have some firm orders that you think are going to – I mean, some orders you think are going to ((inaudible)).

Randy Tinseth:  When I say – we have two customers that are coming online with the airplane this year. Today, Air China and Lufthansa fly the airplane and we have two new customers taking deliveries this year.

John Wojick:  Yes, this year Korean will add the airplane, as will Transaero in Russia.

Operator:  Our next question is from the line of Scott Hamilton from Leeham News. Please go ahead.

Scott Hamilton:  Like to come back to fuel prices and the backlog. If fuel prices stay down for – you know, in the ($60) dollar range or below for a year or two, do you see sales slowing at all, and let me say that in 2008, it took two and a half years for fuel to come back up to $100. And then secondly, and these are really connected, your backlog goes out to 2020 and beyond. How many airlines do you really see in a position that they’re going to want to commit – be committing to airplanes in the 2020 decade, particularly as you have low fuel prices? Do you think that some of the airlines just might delay putting orders in because of the low fuel prices and the fact your backlog is out so far?

Randy Tinseth:  Well, I guess I’d look at it this way. I mean, we launched the 787 when fuel prices were around $40 a barrel. We launched the 777-300ER when fuel prices were around $30 a barrel. I think actually the A320 Neo, when it launched, fuel prices were around $80 a barrel actually when it happened. Fuel is an important part of the equation, there’s no question about it, but it’s only one part of the equation. We know there’s going to be continued volatility around fuel, there’s no question about it, and the best way to address volatility in the marketplace is to have the most fuel efficient airplanes possible, and that’s what we are able to do in the market.

So, the strange thing is you actually look at the correlation; as fuel prices – it’s been volatile over the last couple of years – as fuel price goes down, actually backlog goes up. So, is there a strong correlation between fuel price and backlog? I would say probably not. It’s really about how the airplanes are going to – airlines are going to grow, how they expect to be profitable. You know, the ’37 single-aisle airplanes are the backbone of literally every airline’s fleet around the world. It is essential for them to have the most capable, the most fuel efficient single-aisles in the marketplace.

Wide-bodies, that’s a story about capability of the airplane, plus efficiency. You know, once those airplanes get old, it’s not just the fuel efficiency that hurts their performance; it’s also about their utilization of the aircraft, can you keep it in the air, what happens in terms of maintenance costs, all of those types of things. So, we think the dynamics is there to continue to see this industry to grow about 5 or 6% per year. If the industry grows about 5 or 6% per year, there’ll be ample demand for new airplanes.

Scott Hamilton:  So, how about the correlation to the extraordinarily long backlog? You know, I don’t have any data as to what the backlogs were like when the 787 was launched ((inaudible)).

Randy Tinseth:  We’re in new territory here. We’re in new territory.

Scott Hamilton:  So, ((inaudible)).

Randy Tinseth:  But I’ll tell you what. When you look at the situation today, you have to also realize, you know, delays in the A380, delays in the 747-8, delays in the A350, delays in the 787 has all built up this really large pent-up demand because of, number one, the demand’s not being addressed and the other thing is we have airplanes that are flying many years past the intended retirement date of airlines. You know, those airplanes will deliver, they’ll go into service, they’ll be used and we’ll – we continue to see strong demand for those wide-bodies.

Operator:  Our next question is from the line of Jon Ostrower from Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.

Jon Ostrower:  A question about the – kind of the recent history of single-aisle development. Certainly, you guys remember how the MAX came to be after the American Airlines order in 2011. As far as the prospects for the longer-range A321 and ultimately what is a larger aircraft, certainly you guys like building larger aircraft because they can fetch a higher price when you’re dealing with a comparable incremental cost, do you guys see a tipping point in the future in your own planning that could change your thinking around the size of this market or what your strategy is there? And then ultimately, how do you avoid a repeat of the, essentially the conception of the 737 MAX back in 2011?

John Wojick:  What we’re trying to do in that market space is to try and understand what our customers are really interested in, and in fact, over the last year, we’ve probably visited 30 different customers around the world and have very frank discussions with them about what the requirement is for those airlines in airplanes that are larger than our 737 MAX 9 and airplanes that potentially could fly a little farther than the 737 MAX 9, and we’re studying that very, very closely trying to understand, you know, how large is that market space and would an investment in that market space be justified. And, as we continue to study that, we’re going to continue to look at what we can do in that market space, Jon, and does it make any sense to do something in that market space.

Randy Tinseth:  You know, and Jon, too, in the development of the ’37 today, you know, there is no question it’s been interesting. I mean, as we’ve gone along the ’37 MAX development program, I think we started with an airplane that was 11% better than today’s airplane and we’ve found ways to improve that to 14 and now with the MAX 200, we’ve increased the performance, so the capability of the airplane to a 20% improvement. So, there’s no question the harder and the longer we work on these airplanes, the better we can make them, and I think that speaks to our design team. It also speaks to the fact that we’re always finding ways to build airplanes more efficiently and more capable over time.

I think the one thing that I want to emphasize, a lot of the conversation has been talked about, you know, kind of up-gauging and where that part of the single-aisle market is. Again, I – we see about 70% of that demand for the single-aisle market around A320, 737-800 or MAX 8 size airplanes, another 20 to 25% on the upper level and then 5 to 10% in the lower segment around the 700. You know, that’s really determined by networks, it’s determined by this whole concept of point-to-point, it’s determined by really how airlines compete. There’s been a perceived push, especially by our competitor, to build, you know, more A321s, but the fact is at some point, airplanes in the market, airlines have to fill them, and we’ve had a couple of campaigns, especially in this last year, where our competition came in with a bigger airplane, an A321, and the airline took a look at it and said, “Yes, it’s a very efficient, it’s a very good airplane. We like both the MAX 9 and the A321,” but the true demand in the markets is around – and our network is built around a MAX 8 size airplane. And, you know, frankly, with slightly lower fuel prices, if they hold up for the next few years, I think that will be even more of the (kicks), that airlines will be optimizing around size and performance of the airplane, and I think the push for up-gauging might be stalled a little bit.

Jon Ostrower:  And, I’m curious, just as kind of a follow-up to the discussion over the summer and the launch of the A330 Neo, certainly something that Ray Conner, and John, you talked about was the – was the concerns about availability of 787s in terms of allowing the A330 Neo to gain the kind of market traction that would really kind of establish it in the market. Now, you know, six-plus months later, more than a hundred orders for that airplane and a major U.S. campaign going with Delta on that, I’m curious, your thoughts on that airplane right now, and ultimately, the flexibility you have with the 787 and the pace of production and cost reductions sort of to kind of get a hold of sort of the price flexibility that Airbus seems to be exercising with the Neo.

John Wojick:  You know, as we discussed, the marketplace is very, very competitive and it presents a challenge for all the manufacturers. The airlines very clearly are looking for the best economics they can get, and they are always looking for, you know, more airplane, more capability for less cost, and we’re working really hard to drive to that answer, and you know, the 787 has a tremendous amount of capability as a product. It’s got the best fuel efficiency and the most range capability of any of the airplanes in that market space. The biggest challenge we have is, you know, that capability is not easy to provide without an awful lot of technology, and we need to continue to work and drive our costs so we can be competitive in any market segment with the 787. So, that’ll be a challenge for us going forward but one that we’re very happy to take on and are working really hard.

Jon Ostrower:  Thanks, guys.

Wilson Chow:  Operator, we have time for one more question.

Operator:  Thank you. Our final question is from the line of Guy Norris from Aviation Week. Please go ahead.

Guy Norris:  Yes, good morning. Phew. I wasn’t sure I was going to get in there…. Just a quick question on the 777, sort of on that market. Obviously, you did very well selling, I think it was 63 you said in ’14.

Randy Tinseth:  Right.

Guy Norris:  Just in terms of, you know, that – the infamous bridging the gap question to the X, where are you on that? Is it – was the rate that you achieved in ’14 sort of enough to maintain it towards that – sort of getting towards that gap without significantly having to reduce below the current build rate, or are you kind of at this point accepting that you maybe will have to dip on that rate slightly as you sort of build in towards the beginning of the X program?

John Wojick:  Well, you know, Guy, 2014 was a good year for the 777-300ER and 777 freighter. We did sell a net 63 airplanes this year. Our backlog on the current generation 777 now stands at 278 airplanes, so that’s almost three years’ worth of production, and we need to continue to work diligently to make sure that we continue to sell enough airplanes to keep that skyline full and transition from the 777-300ER, 777 freighter into the 777-8 and 9. But, that’s certainly a focus of ours and the performance that we provided last year has been a good performance to continue to keep that skyline full through 2016. So, you know, we’re going to continue to work that.

Guy Norris:  And do you – the last question from me on that is that do you think that, therefore, still a possibility of an upgrade offerable on that program between now and the beginning of the X? Do you think that might be necessary to fend off the (350-1000) in that – in the interim period?

John Wojick:  Well, actually, we are always continuously working on improvements on our products. We do that on every product, and on the 777, you’ve seen it; as we’ve evolved that product from the original 200 to the 200ER, 300, 300ER – and in fact, we’re working on fuel burn improvements and other items for 2016 that provide equivalency of almost a 2% fuel burn improvement in the 300ER going forward. So, you’re going to continue to see us invest in the product, as is our engine supplier, GE.

Randy Tinseth:  Yes, and just like I suspect Airbus talked about capacity of the A350, there’s things we can do on the 777-300ER that makes more effective use of the space of the aircraft, increases seat counts to improve efficiency. If we can do that with the 777-300ER, we’ll be able to extend those types of enhancements to the 777X. So, when we have opportunities that make sense that improves the performance, the efficiency or the capacity of the airplane, you know, we’re going to go forward with those. That’s what our – that’s what we’ve done in the past; that’s what we’re going to do in the future.

Wilson Chow:  Great. Thank you all for joining today. If you have any follow-up questions, please give us a call at Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ Media Relations. Thanks.

Operator:  Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude our conference call for today. We’d like to thank you for your participation. You may now disconnect.

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10 thoughts on “Boeing’s measured view of the future may not have MAXed out

  1. Tango

    The funniest remark is how many aircraft Boeing has put out despite fierce competition.

    Hmm, as far as I know Airbus does not have anyone in the Boeing plant knocking people off platforms, putting sand in gears, stealing parts, hijacking delivery trucks etc.

    I would say Boeing’s biggest issue is overcoming their own management debacles (cowering employees etc)

    Or to put it another way, mechanics and engineers have done a magnificent job of overcoming management imposed mess.

    That and the refusal to acknowledged the issue the A321 imposes.

    The A321NEO-LR offers a 200 seat intercontinental range segment Boeing does not compete in.

    Using BBJ with 40 people or fewer on board as an example that 737 has longer range is totally disingenuous and someone should have called them on that.

  2. MikeofPerth

    My thoughts are that Boeing realises they have eked as much out of the 737 design as they possibly can to make it competitive. Now its limitations are starting to bite them with Airbus getting the jump on the A321NEOLR.

    It is a bit like if a car manufacturer kept re skinning a car sitting on a 15 year old platform and kept trying to make it competitive in regards to things like driving dynamics, crash safety, NVH, electronic gizmos etc.

    I’m no aviation expert so please confirm or correct me if I am wrong or right but I understand the 737 is limited because of its wing height which limits engine size and angle of attack on take off. Also I understand that using a Hydro-mechanical flight system limits the ability of Boeing to optimise its performance compared to the modern Fly by wire system on the A320 range and other modern jets.

    I think over the next several years Boeing will keep pouring engineering resources into making the 737-MAX range as competitive as possible through incremental improvements whilst also bringing forward its replacement earlier than originally planned.

  3. MikeofPerth

    Just realised I have contradicted myself with my comments but you all get what I am trying to say. 😛

  4. ghostwhowalksnz

    Some commentators are saying the A321neoLR still has about the same old wing and without the additional wing area that the 757 had, they arent going to be able to get the most efficient altitude for those long range routes. Hot and high could be a further problem with restricted runways. Just the sort of places that might look good on a long thin route. So its no just about the length of the tube holding the passengers.

  5. Treeguy

    I especially ,loved their reaction to the question from Dominic Gates from the Seattle Times a little above the section bolded. He basically nailed the fact their response to the A321 in the form of the 797 9 MAX is already completely underperforming against the A321 NEO so promoting it as an alternative to the A321 LR is just wishful thinking. The two guys from Boeing tapdanced around desperately avoiding the question and pointing out how wonderful and superior everything Boeing was, which drew the rather simple response..

    But why are they getting so much more traction for that size category than you are?

    Followed by more tapdancing.

    I’d say the more likely outcome is Boeing is desperately trying to not have to worry about this category and is polling potential customers to find out if a lack of an entrant to go credibly against the A321 LR is going to cost them sales in the 737 8 MAX lines. If not, then you wont see one for dust.

  6. Confirmed Sceptic

    I admire their chutzpah in claiming that because there are only 70 or so old 757s doing long haul in the world the market is only 70 airframes big. And then later they admit that 25% of the single aisle market is actually in the A321 NEO/737-9MAX space.

    I bet that the 321-LR is a runaway success and tips the single aisle order book strongly in favour of Airbus. That is until Boeing clean sheets with a modern design bridging the whole market in two or three variations

  7. Dan Dair

    Based on the interview on this page,
    IMO Boeing haven’t actually got anything like a plan in place,
    either,
    to compete with the A320NEO over the next 5-8 years
    or,
    to put a competitive airframe into the vacant B757 sector in the next 3-5 years.

    If they had something, they’d have at least alluded to what they expected to be coming & approximately when.!

    They seem to be sat back, comfortable in the knowledge that carriers have always bought the B737 in big numbers and they always will.?
    (whatever it’s shortcomings may be…)

  8. George Glass

    2600 MAX’s on order. Hell of a problem! Why would Boeing spend billions on a clean sheet design,with or without fly-by-wire, for minimal increases in efficiency? Current design software is throwing up the same basic configuration and aerodynamics. There is just not that much more efficiency to be had. There needs to be a paradigm shift.

  9. Ben Sandilands

    Being able to clear the end of the field on a hot day with the -9, the unloved problem child of the family, and actually fly the same payload as far as the A321 NEO LR might help sell even more of them.

    It’s got the wing, it’s got the power, but it ain’t got the inclination.

  10. Tango

    GGLASS: You forget that if you have a product in segment the other guy does not compete in, you can get much higher returns let alone if you need an A321, its better to have an all A320 fleet to go with it.

    Boeing did that with the 747 for most of its existence (one of the reasons Airbus came out with the A380 thinking they could get that two (wrong of course as the situation changed under them). Boeing has had its way with the 777 as well as not comparable or even close product until the A350.

    So while they cat and go fight in the 737-8/9 (9s do sell to people like Ak Airlines that need more pax lift) and cut their margins to the bone, Airbus can get far better price for the A321 and more so for the A321NEO-LR and make a strong case Boeing is fleet limited and to go all A320.

    And for MikeofPerth: Wing height sort of yes, its the gear situation that was designed for a tube engine. Due to the design you just can’t make it longer (without getting funky) and no place to stow it if you could).

    Gears do have limits, A320 uses that rotating front gear that bites them from time to time and 777 had to use a fancier system on the mains. At some point its just not possible and the 737 it just isn’t.

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