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Originally published January 5, 2012 at 8:41 AM | Page modified January 6, 2012 at 8:50 AM

Boeing delivers more, and less, in 2011

Boeing's final jet-delivery figures for 2011 show steady production on the established 777 and 737 assembly lines in Everett and Renton but disappointingly few deliveries of its new airplanes.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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Boeing's final jet-delivery figures for 2011 show steady production on the established 777 and 737 assembly lines in Everett and Renton but disappointingly few deliveries of its new airplanes.

Though Boeing delivered the first 787 Dreamliner in September, it struggled to deliver a total of just three by year end.

That fell short of its forecast in October, when the company cut an earlier target of delivering 12 to 20 airplanes in the year and said it would turn over to customers only five to seven Dreamliners.

The new 747-8 jumbo jet also failed to reach its reduced delivery target.

Early in the year, Boeing had predicted 12 to 20 deliveries. Then in October it cut the goal to between 10 and 14. In the end, only nine of the big jets went to customers.

Overall, Boeing said it delivered 477 jets and took in a total of 805 net orders last year.

Those figures compare with 462 deliveries and 530 net orders in 2010, reflecting increased production and very healthy sales.

Airlines are still buying airplanes, and the aviation business continues an extraordinary boom in the midst of global economic gloom.

However, Boeing once again is second to European rival Airbus.

Airbus won't reveal its final order and delivery figures for 2011 until Jan. 17, but as of the end of November it had nearly 1,400 net orders because of runaway sales of its new narrowbody A320neo.

Airbus will also beat Boeing handily in 2011 deliveries. Bloomberg News reported Thursday from Toulouse, France, that the final Airbus delivery tally will exceed 530 jets.

The good news for Boeing is that it might regain its status as the world's No. 1 jet maker in 2012.

On the sales front, Boeing's new 737 MAX — belatedly offered to airlines eight months after the Airbus A320neo — should rake in orders this year from established 737 customers.

If, as Boeing anticipates, the MAX can match the neo in the narrowbody market, then Boeing should beat Airbus in orders in 2012 for the first time in five years.

Encouragingly, Boeing also booked three orders in December for a total of 39 new Dreamliners in 2011: 10 for Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates, four for Air Lease Corp. and 25 for an unidentified customer.

And the 777 had a record year with 200 orders, boosted by delays to Airbus' forthcoming rival, the A350.

In contrast, sales of the new 747-8 faltered in 2011.

Initial orders were for the cargo version, and the airfreight market deteriorated in the final quarter along with the global economy.

Atlas Air and United Arab Emirates' leasing company, DAE, canceled orders, leaving the 747-8 net sales tally for the year at minus 1.

When it comes to delivering airplanes, in the year ahead Boeing is increasing 737 production in Renton from 31.5 to 35 jets a month.

And it will install and test new equipment in Everett, including two 18-foot-tall robots that will automatically clean and paint 777 wings, to prepare for rising increasing 777 production early in 2013 from seven to 8.3 jets per month.

Yet for Boeing to have a chance of building more airplanes in 2012 than Airbus — which it hasn't done for a decade — this year it must finally get a steady stream of Dreamliners into the air.

Up to now, the pipeline of 787s is flowing into a quagmire.

About 40 requiring extensive rework are parked at Paine Field.

Boeing mechanics worked through the holidays in an effort to deliver three in December, but got only one out the door.

Even that one, signed over to Japan's All Nippon Airways on Dec. 30, didn't actually leave for Japan until Wednesday.

The other two that were extensively worked on — Dreamliners 9 and 41, numbered according to when they rolled out of the factory — were stalled by last-minute engineering requests, according to a person with knowledge of the airplanes.

Due to poor documentation, for example, the fuel tanks on No. 41 had to be opened to check the seals on fasteners.

Boeing declined to comment on the issues that held back delivery of these two planes.

Because of the focus on fixing those three airplanes, the next Dreamliners in the rework pipeline are very far from ready. So the prospect is for slow 787 deliveries out of Everett to continue even after the next few airplanes fly off.

Meanwhile, the first 787 is expected to be delivered out of Charleston, S.C., this spring.

In short, it's all-systems-go across Boeing's assembly lines in 2012, but with all eyes on the 787 stuck at the starting line.

The company's executives will give a production update Jan. 25, when Boeing announces its earnings for 2011.

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

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