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Monday, March 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Boeing hits a new jet delivery record, just missing its 2018 target

The Boeing logo appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on July 24, 2017. (Associated Press)
The Boeing logo appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on July 24, 2017. (Associated Press)
By Dominic Gates Seattle Times

With no letup in demand for commercial airplanes worldwide, Boeing Commercial Airplanes in 2018 once again delivered a record number of jets while winning even more new orders and increasing its sales backlog.

Boeing released its final 2018 jet order and delivery figures Tuesday. Boeing Commercial built and delivered 806 airplanes last year, up from the previous record of 763 jets a year earlier. And the jet maker won net new orders for 893 airplanes.

Boeing had told financial analysts that it aimed to deliver between 810 and 815 jets in 2018. The shortfall of four jets is not expected to unduly worry Wall Street, which will be relieved by what looks like a strong recovery in deliveries of the 737 from Renton, which had been hit by earlier supplier shortages. Boeing shares rose 3.8 percent for the day to close at $340.53.

Boeing’s production rate has climbed relentlessly for 11 straight years, since it last faltered in 2008 due to a 57-day Machinists strike and the global financial crisis.

“Boeing raised the bar again in 2018,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Kevin McAllister said in a statement. “In a dynamic year, our production discipline and our supplier partners helped us build and deliver more airplanes than ever before to satisfy the strong demand for air travel across the globe.”

In 2018, deliveries of the 737 from Boeing’s jet-assembly plant in Renton were hampered in the summer by delays in the supply of fuselages from Spirit AeroSystems and engines for the new 737 MAX from CFM International. This caused a logjam of unfinished jets to pile up around the factory and on the taxiway at the adjacent airfield.

But after massive efforts in the fall to catch up, Boeing mechanics worked through the Christmas break in December and managed to deliver 69 of those 737s. That’s 17 more than the production rate, which meant that much of the remaining clutter around the plant was cleared.

Altogether for the year, Boeing delivered 580 of the single-aisle 737s, including 256 of the new MAX model, indicating that the Christmas delivery scramble has essentially brought the 737 program back to where it should be.

One quirk in the data is that the delivery tally for the year includes 10 Boeing 767 air-to-air refueling tankers that were not actually delivered to their customer, the Air Force.

Boeing Commercial counts those as delivered because they were transferred to Boeing’s defense unit, which takes the basic airplane and installs the military systems, including the refueling boom.

Boeing had hoped to deliver those tankers to the Air Force before the year-end. In May, Leanne Caret, head of Boeing’s defense and space division, insisted that Boeing would deliver 18 tankers to the Air Force by year-end. None has yet been delivered.

So those 10 deliveries do not represent money paid to Boeing, only money transferred from one Boeing unit to another. The first tanker delivery is still expected imminently.

On the new orders front, last-minute December orders brought significant milestones: the new Boeing 737 MAX surpassed 5,000 net orders and the big 777 widebody jet surpassed 2,000 net orders.

Boeing sales chief Ihssane Mounir called it “another year of healthy jet orders (that) continues to support our long-term forecast for robust global demand.”

The jets built in Renton continue to be Boeing’s bread and butter, with a total of 675 single-aisle 737s ordered. For the widebody jets, the 787 Dreamliner continues to sell well with 109 net orders last year.

UPS’ order for 14 jumbo jet 747 freighters even made it a banner year for that aging jet. Boeing will sell no more 747 passenger versions and even freighter orders are likely to fade now. But the total of 18 orders in 2018, which increased the undelivered backlog to 24 airplanes, can keep 747 production in Everett going at the current rate for up to another four years.

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