Boeing Makes Lemonade in Russia

Is Boeing's (NYSE: BA  ) vaunted 787 Dreamliner really just a carbon-composite lemon with wings?

After years of bad news about the 787's progress, you can be forgiven for thinking so, and you're not alone. Over in Russia, the national carrier Aeroflot has finally realized that it's not going to get the 787s it bargained for -- or at least, not in a timely fashion. For now, at least, it's decided to make do with what it can get: Boeing 777s.

Last week, Aeroflot announced that since the arrivals board on its 22-plane Dreamliner order is reading "Delayed, duration unknown," it needs to place a stopgap order for planes Boeing's actually able to deliver. Aeroflot's ordering up a mixed bag of eight 777-200ERs and eight more 777-300ERs to tide it over.

Say again?
Yes, you read that right. Boeing screwed up its 787 program. In punishment, it gets to keep all 22 Aeroflot-bound Dreamliner sales ... and scores an additional 16 sales of 777s to boot. Genius!

But wait -- the news gets better. According to Boeing's latest price list, the 777-200s and -300s that Aeroflot is buying average $258 million apiece at list prices. (That compares to  just $185 million for a 787-8.) So in selling Aeroflot on the 777-solution, Boeing just doubled Aeroflot's original $4.1 billion commitment.

Pretty sneaky, Sis
Pretty good news for Boeing, huh? And I'll bet its 787 suppliers are pleased as well. Because as it turns out, most of the same aerospace players lined up to support Boeing's 787 launch also play a part in helping it build the 777 -- General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) and United Technologies (NYSE: UTX  ) do the 777's engines; Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE: SPR  ) the fuselage and nacelles; and of course, Honeywell (NYSE: HON  ) is responsible for interior decorating.

All of these firms can now expect an uptick in orders, because just this week, Boeing announced that in response to incredible "global demand" for the 777 (demand that Boeing's helped create through its repeated 787 delays), the company intends to ramp up 777 builds. This will begin mid-next-year, accelerating production 66% until the company's churning out aircraft at the rate of 8.3 per month by early 2013.

Hey! I just had a great idea!
Now I know what you're thinking -- those clever rascals at Boeing, this was their plan all along! They intentionally fumbled the ball on the 787 for three straight years, hoping to sell even more planes to customers such as United Continental (NYSE: UAL  ) and AMR (NYSE: AMR  ) , and ANA, while they're stranded in the waiting lounge, waiting to board their 787s.

Well ... maybe. I personally think that would be giving Boeing management a bit too much credit. But give them credit for what they have done: Turned a lemon of a plane into lemony-sweet profits (derived, albeit, from an entirely different plane.) Why, with the extra scratch Boeing makes from its 777 sales, it may even be able to pay off some of the "delay-of-game" fines it's going to get hit with for not delivering the 787 on time.

In short, it's hard to characterize Boeing's continual difficulties with the 787 as "good" news. But hey -- when all you've got is lemons, might as well make lemonade. At least in Russia, you know it'll come in a frosty mug.

Spirit AeroSystems Holdings is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. Check out his latest stock recommendations on Motley Fool CAPS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On December 23, 2010, at 10:29 PM, ndhosford wrote:

    Boeing has learned from the 787. I believe Boeing was going too far into seeing itself as a systems integrator. It was depending on subcontractors to develop too much key technology. The upside for Boeing was that they reduced development costs by sharing with the subs. One down side is that the Boeing is loosing its "moat" by not keeping its monopoly on key skills. Another is that a failure by a sub can be very very much more costly to Boeing than to the sub. It may not make economic sense to the sub to spend enough to quickly solve problems that cost Boeing most of the losses.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2010, at 3:53 PM, gldfan wrote:

    Pretty much Harry Stonecipher's mistake. Boeing has never been the same since Stonecipher used Boeing's money so McDonnell Douglas could takeover Boeing

    Harry Stonecipher, greediest aviation CEO ever.

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