Will the Dreamliner Become The Boeing Company's Cash Cow?

The 787 Dreamliner has been a pain point in Boeing's (NYSE: BA  ) financial statements, burning a hole in its deep pockets. The aircraft major has spent billions on the dream project, and at last there are signs that the wide-body jet could become a key revenue driver. If the second quarter's delivery trend is anything to go by, Boeing's efforts are finally paying off.


An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner at Brussels Airport, Source: Flikr.

Dreamliner picking up pace
Boeing's second-quarter delivery figures have jumped more than 7% over the same period last year to a record high of 181 aircraft. The narrow-body 737 plane continues to be the bread-and-butter of the aircraft major with 124 deliveries. "Every 12 hours we finish and deliver a 737," says Commercial Airplanes division CEO Ray Conner.  

The biggest surprise was the amazing 88% jump in the deliveries of Dreamliners against the year-ago quarter. The great news didn't end there; the longer and costlier variant of the 787-8 model, the 787-9, saw its first delivery in the quarter. Boeing dispatched 30 Dreamliners, out of which 15 were rolled out in the last month of the quarter. This was "a new record for the program, " said Boeing Commercial Airplanes marketing chief, Randy Tinseth.


Airplane delivery pattern in the past six quarters, chart made by author, Source: Boeing.

This is a remarkable feat for the aerospace giant considering that making the Dreamliner is a long-drawn course, which is precisely why 787 deliveries get held. After its production, the 787 has to go through post-assembly modifications. It also needs flight testing for which Boeing doesn't have adequate resources. The 787 is assembled at North Charleston, S.C., and Everett, Wash. The factory at North Charleston often encounters production pitfalls slowing the process, but the production advancement at the Everett unit has helped accelerate the aircraft development. This shows in the latest numbers.

Boeing has been ramping up its production level to capitalize on the mammoth backlog and boost the top line. It started manufacturing 10 787s a month last November, up from seven jets a month. It managed to deliver the targeted number -- 30 -- in the second quarter, however, compared to 18 in the first quarter. This will help the company to restrict piling deferred costs that are estimated to run as high as $25 billion by next year. 

Total aircraft deliveries for the first half of the year add up to 342 planes, or 12% more than last year's comparable figure. For the fiscal year, the company is looking at delivering around 715-725 planes, going beyond its record delivery of 648 jets past year.

A significant boost
The 787 delivery jump and the fact that it has come in second volume-wise after 737 is a big boost to Boeing. Composite planes, including Airbus' (NASDAQOTH: EADSY  ) A350, have had their share of difficulties.


Airbus A350 XWB, Source: Airbus.

The 787 Dreamliner has been on a roller-coaster ride. This includes everything from complications during the developmental stage in 2003 that led to production delays and cost overruns, to the latest technical snag and supply chain issues in 2013 that have hampered its profitability. Boeing steadily triumphed over it all, though, and the company is now preparing to reap rich benefits. Anticipating a steady flow of orders, Boeing proposes to augment the 787 production rate to 12 a month in 2016, and further up to 14 a month in 2020. 

Another shot in Boeing's arm has been the first delivery of the 787-9 in the quarter, which was originally planned four years back. It got delayed as Boeing was caught up with the 787-8's technical snags. The 787-9 is gaining popularity; of the total Dreamliner order backlog, 413 (around 40%) are for the 787-9. With Airbus' A350 scheduled to enter service this fall, the competition is heating up.

Order check
According to the Wall Street Journal, Europe-based Norwegian Air Shuttle can place orders for 20 787-9s as the low-fare carrier looks to expand its wide-body fleet and solidify its international service. Boeing plans to produce the 787-9 in both its manufacturing facilities at Everett and North Charleston to cater to the white-hot demand for the jet. The company also recently locked an order for 14 787s from All Nippon Airlines.


The 787-9 is moved into a parking spot at Everett, Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Boeing and Airbus are expected to announce their order wins at the Farnborough International Airshow, which is scheduled from July 14 to July 20. Though Airbus has not given any update, Boeing is confident that it will outdo its European rival in terms of new orders at the marquee industry event in the U.K.

Over the next two decades, Boeing expects bulk orders for wide-body jets to come from the fast-expanding Asia Pacific region; these will mostly come from China, India, and Indonesia. Though recent deferrals and cancellations from airlines in the region have raised doubts on the future order flow, the downtrend is transitory and may not affect long-term prospects.

The crux
Boeing's most prized and ground-breaking creation's safety has been questioned a few times, but it didn't shake the aircraft major's confidence in the flagship program's prospects. Instead, the company made amends to fix the issues. Though there's no guarantee that the aircraft won't get caught in further technical snags, an end to the Dreamliners' woes would massively boost the company's morale and enhance its financials. Going by current developments, it looks like hard times are finally fading away.

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