EVERETT, Wash. (
) -- The era of the
Dreamliner is upon us.
"The 787 is about to take the world by storm," said BB&T analyst Carter Leake, in a recent report. "Boeing is about to transition from what has been one of its darkest periods to what we believe will be its best-ever decade."
Over the past few years, Boeing's newest aircraft has been regularly described as a "game changer" in hundreds of discussions about its potential, even as the wait for delivery became longer and longer and even as pessimism regarding the aircraft dominated.
Today, concerns over how long it will take for Boeing to make money on the aircraft -- a computation obscured by complex accounting -- lingers. Some experts estimate that development costs, once estimated at $5 billion, could in fact be triple that, meaning Boeing will probably have to sell hundreds of aircraft to cover them.
Originally scheduled for first delivery in May 2008 -- this date was announced in 2003 and remained operative until early 2007, according to a
timeline -- the 787 Dreamliner at last has a firm date for first delivery. On Sept. 26, Boeing will hand over an aircraft to Japanese carrier
The Start of 787 Upside
Theoretically, the 787 news cycle will soon turn positive, benefitting share prices. On the optimism scale, nothing beats the introduction of a new aircraft long awaited by the entire world. Just recall how perceptions began to change when
the Airbus A380 made its first flight.
787 launch customer ANA, moving to extend the benefit, has scheduled a series of firsts with the plane. The first flight with paying passengers will be a special charter between Tokyo Narita and Hong Kong, scheduled for Oct. 26. The first scheduled service will occur Nov. 1, with four domestic flights -- a Haneda-Okayama round-trip followed by a Haneda-Hiroshima round-trip.
Then comes service on the first international route, Haneda-Beijing in December, followed by the first long-haul international route, Haneda-Frankfurt in January 2012. That flight will be operated as part of a joint venture with Star Alliance partner
assuring connecting traffic at both ends of the route.
Boeing shares began 2011 at $66.15 and are flat for the year, after reaching a high of $80.65 in May. Leake has a target price of $92.
"We encourage investors to view the 787's tortuous path to today as a very wide, technological moat that Boeing has crossed -- and
has not," Leake wrote. He challenged suggestions that billions in unforeseen costs, combined with deep discounts on early sales, will preclude Boeing from making money on the program.
One reason, he said, is that many customers may switch from the initial model, the 787-8, to later stretched models, the 787-9 and the 787-10. "In such a win-win transaction, the customer gets a bigger airplane and Boeing makes a higher margin; but more importantly, the deeply-discounted airplane position can now be sold at a higher price to a new customer," he said.
Still, aviation consultant Scott Hamilton, who follows Airbus and Boeing as managing director of Leeham Co, said the Dreamliner era, if it is beginning, is in its very early stages.
"By the end of the year, I don't think they will have ten in service, and there is some question about how many they will deliver next year," he said. "Production ramp-up and some reworking will still be challenges." Hamilton said that even if its customers are willing to move to higher margin aircraft, Boeing could still have to pay compensation for late deliveries.
Dreamliner + U.S. Airlines
Boeing has not identified its other 2011 deliveries. But early in 2012,
will become the first U.S. airline to take delivery of the 787. United and Continental, now merged, had each ordered 25 aircraft.
Before the merger, Continental announced that its first 787 would fly between Houston and Auckland, New Zealand, but it is unclear whether that will be the first route for the combined airline. Assembly of the first United 787 began in Everett last month.
Avondale Partners airline analyst Bob McAdoo said the route demonstrates the value of the 787. "It used to be that the rule of thumb was that the farther you wanted to go, the bigger the airplane had to be, because it had to carry more fuel," McAdoo said.
"But the 787 allows you to go a long way on a relatively thin route, like Houston-New Zealand, or West Coast-Saigon," he said. "It allows you to go non-stop to smaller destinations, without having to connect in Japan."
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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