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Originally published January 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 4, 2008 at 10:49 AM

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Boeing orders rocket past 1,400 in 2007

Boeing in 2007 blasted past its all-time annual commercial-jet-sales record, to a total 1,423 gross orders for the year — up almost...

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing in 2007 blasted past its all-time annual commercial-jet-sales record, to a total 1,423 gross orders for the year — up almost 400 from the record set only a year ago.

Taking into account order cancellations and substitutions during the year, the final net order figure is 1,413 airplanes.

Boeing also released its jet-delivery figures, showing a steady productivity uptick. Its Puget Sound-area plants rolled out 441 commercial airliners in 2007, compared with 398 in 2006.

The outcome of the annual sales race with rival Airbus will not be known until mid-month, when the European plane maker releases its 2007 sales figures.

It's expected Airbus' total will be slightly higher, if it counts a large China order agreed to in November. Boeing executives consider that order less than firm and inclusion in the 2007 tally dubious.

Bob Toomey, a financial analyst with investment brokerage E.K. Riley, described the three consecutive years of Boeing orders topping the 1,000 mark as "amazing and unprecedented."

"Obviously, they are developing the right products for the market," said Toomey.

Boeing's sales tally, up more than one-third from 2006, is impressive in quality as well as quantity.

While the top-selling jet remained the Renton-built 737, a healthy 40 percent of sales came from the larger, more lucrative wide-body jets built in Everett.

The total list-price value of Boeing's 2007 net orders is approximately $171 billion, the company said. However, commercial jets are sold at hefty discounts.

Based on market price estimates by aircraft-valuation firm Avitas, the approximate actual value to Boeing of the total net orders after discounts is about $106 billion.

Boeing's previous sales record, set in 2006, was for 1,044 net orders — worth $115 billion at list prices or, using Avitas estimates, about $71 billion after typical discounts.

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The sales highlight in 2007, unsurprisingly, was the 787 Dreamliner, set to fly for the first time this spring. Boeing sold 369 of the new jets in 2007, more than twice last year's total.

The Dreamliner now has a total 817 orders before it even flies.

Boeing also sold 143 of its large 777 wide-bodies (with two cancellations), up from 77 in 2006.

One disappointment was the lack of any airline order for the passenger version of Boeing's new 747-8 jumbo jet.

Boeing sold only 25 of these new jumbo jets in 2007 (there were also four cancellations.) All were for freighter aircraft, except for one for a VIP private version of the jet.

In 2006, Boeing sold 60 of the jets, including 20 of the passenger version to Lufthansa of Germany, so far the only airline to order that model.

As of the end of November, Airbus had 1,095 net firm orders. It won't announce its final 2007 total until Jan. 16.

The end of the year brings a rush of finalized orders, and Airbus supersalesman John Leahy might then regain the sales crown he surrendered last year.

To squeeze past Boeing's total, Leahy would likely have had to book a big 160-jet order from China, announced when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Beijing in November.

In a year-end interview last month, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Scott Carson expressed frustration with that possibility.

Two years ago, Boeing cried foul privately when Airbus booked as firm a big China order after final agreement with the Chinese government — but before the planes had been assigned to the specific Chinese airlines that would pay for and fly them.

Carson views the 2007 China order similarly and is impatient with what he sees as Airbus' looser definition of a firm order.

"Airbus did not get an order for 160 planes. They signed a letter of intent," said Carson, "This will be an order some day, but it's not an order we would have counted this year."

Clearly content with Boeing's own record sales but unsure how Leahy will book his orders, Carson downplayed the horse-race element of their rivalry.

"I'm not racing with anyone," Carson said.

The new year begins amid fears of a general recession and an almost certain global order downturn in the cyclical aviation business.

But while 2008 is expected to be very much slower in sales — analysts estimate Boeing orders could plummet as low as 600 jets in the year ahead — the huge order backlog from three straight years of record sales represents at least five solid years of production at Boeing's two assembly plants.

Delivery figures for 2007, also released Thursday, show production of current jets humming at both factories, even as Boeing prepares to produce the new Dreamliner.

From Everett in 2007, Boeing delivered 83 of its large 777s compared with 65 the previous year equaling the 1999 delivery rate, the highest production level ever for that jet.

From Renton, it delivered 330 of the single-aisle 737s, compared with to 302 the previous year.

For 2008, as production continues to ramp up, Boeing is forecasting between 480 and 490 commercial-jet deliveries.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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