How fast can Boeing build 737s?
Renton production rate could accelerate further.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Boeing is studying how to raise production at its Renton plant to heights barely conceivable a few years ago.
How high? Joe Ozimek, vice president of marketing for the 737 MAX, said Boeing is convinced it can sell just as many 737s as it can roll out over the next 20 years.
"Our best guess is we'll have to produce 60 single-aisle airplanes a month, and Airbus is going to have to produce 60 single-aisle airplanes a month, ... just to meet what we think is rational demand in that time period," said Ozimek.
That's a figure first mentioned last year by then-Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Jim Albaugh, though few took it as a serious target.
Boeing's plan is to raise the production rate from 35 jets per month today, to 38 next April, then 42 a year later. It's studying how to go beyond that.
Longtime aviation analyst Adam Pilarski sees the current aviation boom as a bubble that must deflate, and flatly rejects Ozimek's projection.
"This is 'Looney Tunes,' " he said. "It doesn't make any sense."
Pilarski, senior vice president at consulting firm Avitas, pointed out the annual forecast Boeing released this week projects a market for just over 23,000 single-aisle jets during the next 20 years. Even if the emerging competition from China, Canada, Russia and Brazil fails to dent the current duopoly — a big if — and Airbus and Boeing get to deliver 10,000 of those jets apiece, that translates into an average production rate of 42 jets per month each.
Going up to a peak of around 50 might make sense, Pilarski said.
"The numbers just don't add up," he said. "It's simple math."
Another aviation guru, Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group, disagrees.
He said 60 is a possible peak figure that wouldn't last for years but could be reached during the expected surge of demand for the MAX toward the end of this decade.
Could Boeing actually build that many jets? It's conceivable.
By 2015, Boeing will have three full assembly lines in Renton, each theoretically capable of assembling 21 jets per month.
And by then it will also have duplicated its current wing assembly line, potentially doubling the current line's capacity of 31.5 sets of wings per month.
Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier cautioned that suppliers — especially Spirit Aerosystems of Wichita, Kan., which produces all the fuselages — would also have to massively scale up.
"Suppliers are key," said Verdier. "They have to be able to ramp up at the same levels we would."
She added that further remodeling of the entire factory, beyond what's going on now, will likely be needed to find room for everything. But Boeing is working on it.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org