In the past few weeks, Boeing's (NYSE:BA) widebody warhorses, the 747 and 767, have seen things going their way. First came a commitment for 20 747 jets at the Paris air show in June, and now FedEx has placed a firm order for 50 767 aircraft, with the option of buying 50 more. Let's look at how important these developments are for Boeing.
The FedEx order and Boeing
Speculation had been brewing for a while that FedEx was thinking about expanding its 767 fleet, with some analysts pegging the prospective order at 50 and some at 25. FedEx's order of 50 767-300s, the biggest order in the jet's history, will bring in $9.9 billion at list price. Boeing will deliver the latest 767 order, which FedEx has slated for its Express business, between 2017 and 2023.
FedEx has been a dedicated 767-300F customer since 2011 and had ordered 79 of these planes through July, of which Boeing had delivered 20. The FedEx pending deliveries pretty much constitute the whole of Boeing's 767 backlog. All but four of Boeing's total 767 backlog are contracted to FedEx.
Though the 767 entered service in 1982 as a passenger plane, it's the aircraft's freighter version that's kept the program alive. Last December, Boeing had increased the jet's production rate from one in two months to 1.5 every month. The company plans to increase the rate to two per month starting next year.
As fellow Fool Adam Levine-Weinberg calculated, the sparse 767 backlog before the FedEx order could have become a concern by 2019. The addition of 50 planes into the backlog has put the company's worries to rest. Reuters says Boeing will now be able to take the 767's production well into the next decade. That's what makes the order so special for the 767 program -- it's put fresh blood into an aircraft nearing its end.
The 747 is getting lucky, too
The 747 was Boeing's first widebody jet and revolutionized air travel. But times have changed a lot since then. Technological advancements have brought in fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft such as the 787 and Airbus' A350, which airlines increasingly prefer over the fuel-guzzling four-engine jumbo jets.
Like the 767, though, it's the 747's freighter version that's kept the order book full. At the recently held Paris air show, getting 747 commitments from the Volga-Dnepr Group was a major highlight. The deal for 20 747-8 freighters is the largest for the aircraft in many years, and it comes at a time when the company has been steadily decreasing monthly production of the jet. From the present 1.5 per month, it will go down to 1.3 in September and then to one per month next March. The 747's backlog, meanwhile, is at a dismal 31 through July. The Volga-Dnepr Group order is not firm, so it doesn't show in the order list on the Boeing site, but once it's confirmed, it will make the production line a little busier.
Foolish last words
These recent 747 and 767 orders are special in two ways: They help ensure a smooth landing for the aging aircraft; and being widebodies, they will likely command a high price point even after any discounts Boeing may give for these larger orders. Boeing has always maintained that there's still demand for these jumbos, especially in the cargo market. Air freight is slowly getting back on its feet -- the International Air Transport Association expects the market to strengthen in the year -- and the FedEx order has only reconfirmed the outlook. That means there could be more good news in store for the jumbos.