The Price of Boeing's 787 Sales Success
(Source: Flight International FlightBlogger; published Dec. 21, 2010)
Data obtained by FlightBlogger show Boeing's historic order backlog for the 787 was based partly on steep discounts driven by now-discarded design and manufacturing assumptions. Cost overruns, penalty payments and supply chain changes adopted in the last two years will force Boeing to achieve unprecedented cost-savings for the widebody to turn a profit even after delivering the current 846-aircraft backlog.

With first delivery nearly three years behind schedule, the cost to build each 787 has skyrocketed from its original foundations built upon dramatically lower and more predictable production costs, say company insiders.

In the race to sign up customers between 2004 and 2006, airframe prices averaged just below $76 million, a price that does not include the the $20 to $30 million GENx or Rolls-Royce engines, buyer furnished equipment (BFE) and in-flight entertainment (IFE), according to pricing data.

While Boeing will never disclose the actual prices its mega-backlog of 787s were sold for, Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, believes the 787 was sold for far less than it was worth, as acknowledged in a recent interview: "I think we gave away some of the value of this airplane to a lot of our customers."

Though that statement, say customer and company sources, as well as industry analysts, is an understated acknowledgment that hints at how Boeing's 787 backlog was built; stimulated not only by huge future growth in air traffic and precipitously rising fuel prices, but a steady and strategic drop in the price of the aircraft.

Boeing, which did not comment on the actual pricing figures, says it is "constantly evaluating our value proposition in the marketplace. Prices are adjusted based on the value our products provide to our customers as well as our positioning in the competitive environment."

In late 2004, Boeing started employing aggressive sales tactics, according to sources familiar with the pricing discussions, blunting the ambitions of the original Airbus A350, then a significantly upgraded A330. That aggressiveness, led by then sales vice president Scott Carson, with a mandate from then-CEO Harry Stonecipher, then-Commercial Airplanes Chief Alan Mulally and the Boeing board of directors, saw prices slashed on the company's composite jetliner.

In the more than three and a half years since its first 787 began assembly, the prevailing wisdom about Boeing's woes have centered upon moving past manufacturing design issues, completing extensive rework of production airframes, certifying and delivering the first units for revenue service and building a steady industrial ramp up at its Everett and Charleston facilities; all while re-balancing its supply chain as it develops the 787-8's larger successor.

Although each is a formidable task, the pricing data indicates Boeing also must overcome five-year-old pricing decisions on more than 300 787s still in the backlog.

The 2004 through 2006 airframe prices charged to airline customers ranged between $83.5 million and as low as $65.7 million for the 787-8, for one higher volume deal with a blue chip customer. Prices for the larger 787-9 were cut significantly as well, but the sales balance in the early years of the program was weighted heavily toward the smaller -8.

There remains great risk and opportunity to ensure the 787 - the company's fastest selling jetliner - becomes the cash cow Boeing hopes it will become. Few doubt the market success of Boeing's flagship program, though the profitability and margins remain open questions as the recurring production costs, by the company's own admission, lack clarity.

Boeing declined a request for executives currently leading the program, as well as Carson, though the company did comment on a point-by-point basis. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full article, on the Flight Global website.


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