Entering this year, investors had fairly low expectations for order activity at Boeing (BA -1.58%) in 2017. So did Boeing's management. On the company's January earnings call, CEO Dennis Muilenberg forecast that new order intake for 2017 would be similar to the 688 net orders Boeing received last year. This was a respectable number, but it fell short of the company's production for the first time since 2009.
However, Boeing has surprised everyone in the first half of 2017, bringing in a raft of orders and commitments. As long as Boeing can firm up most of its outstanding commitments in the next six months, it will almost certainly surpass its order guidance this year.
Boeing's orders surge -- commitments, too
Through July 4, Boeing had captured 381 net firm orders in 2017, consisting of 438 gross orders and 57 changes or cancellations. A good chunk of these orders came at last month's Paris Air Show, where Boeing announced 134 new firm orders. For comparison, Boeing only received 276 net orders in the first half of 2016.
Furthermore, Boeing received commitments for 437 aircraft at the Paris Air Show last month, lifted by the new 737 MAX 10 jet. These deals haven't been finalized yet, but Boeing will probably be able to seal most of them by year's end, adding hundreds more firm orders to its backlog.
Boeing also has a variety of other aircraft sale commitments waiting to be finalized. Most notably, it has agreements to sell 110 airplanes to two airlines from Iran that are still progressing through the government approval process.
Solid wide-body order activity
On a pure numbers basis, Boeing's order totals for the first half of 2017 look good. However, in recent years, order activity has been skewed toward narrow-bodies such as the Boeing 737. While the 737 is highly profitable, it already has a massive order backlog, so winning additional orders is less urgent.
Boeing has been surprisingly successful in generating wide-body orders this year. As of mid-year, it had already captured 119 net wide-body orders, consisting of 75 net orders for the 787 family, 33 for the 777 family, and 15 for the 767 family, offset by four cancellations for the 747 family.
Boeing's biggest wide-body deal of the year was an order for 20 777-9s and 19 787-10s from Singapore Airlines. Additionally, aircraft leasing giant AerCap Holdings placed an order for 30 787-9s at the Paris Air Show.
Boeing has a number of wide-body commitments waiting to be firmed up as well. At the Paris Air Show, the company lined up commitments for 17 787 Dreamliners and two 777s. Boeing's pending deal with Iran Air also includes 15 777-300ERs and 15 777-9s.
Time to firm up those commitments
Looking ahead to the remainder of 2017, the main task for Boeing's sales team will be to finalize the hundreds of commitments received last month. Firming up the Iran deals is also important, but that depends largely on securing the necessary government approvals.
If Boeing can turn just half of its outstanding commitments into firm orders by the end of 2017, it would be close to matching last year's order total, even if it fails to drum up any new business in the next six months. In a more likely scenario, it should be able to at least double its current firm order total of 381 by year's end.
Boeing's strong order activity this year shows that the recent industry order downturn isn't as worrisome as some pundits have suggested. Even more importantly, it demonstrates that Boeing's product portfolio is competitive with that of its longtime rival Airbus. As a result, Boeing remains on track to meet its target of boosting production to more than 900 aircraft per year by 2020.