How Boeing Came Back From the Brink
You could hear it in his voice. As soon as Boeing CEO Jim McNerney started the company's earnings conference call he immediately started discussing the state of Boeing's beleaguered 787 Dreamliner program.
"We're confident we can be through the repairs within a couple of weeks," said McNerney as he outlined the progress Boeing is making fixing the battery systems of 50 Dreamliners that have been grounded at locations around the world. "As modifications go, this is not a big one [in terms of technical requirements]."
McNerney has never been a CEO to puff out his chest or pat himself on the back. Still, for the first time in months, you could tell he was feeling confident Boeing had seen the worst with the Dreamliner problems.
Maybe that is why shares of Boeing surged more than 2 percent after the company reported much better than expected earnings for the first quarter.
Two things about the Dreamliner stand out in Boeing's first quarter results:
1. No Charge Related to Repair Costs
It has been estimated fixing the Dreamliner battery system will cost Boeing at least $600 million dollars. A hefty sum that had some on Wall Street wondering if Boeing would take a charge in first quarter earnings and it didn't happen.
Also, on the company conference call with analysts it said the impact of the fix would be minimal, especially when spread out over 1,100 Dreamliners.
2. No Change in 787 delivery Schedule
Boeing said it still planned to deliver at least 60 Dreamliners this year, which is the same guidance it set at the end of last year. Boeing has not delivered a 787 since the FAA grounded the plane in mid-January.
Now that the FAA has approved a plan to fix the battery system, Boeing will start modifying those Dreamliners that have been built, but are waiting on the tarmac for delivery. McNerney told analysts, "Deliveries are expected to resume in early May." He added, "We remain on track to increase 787 production to 10 per month by the end of the year."
787 Flights Resume Saturday?
While Boeing waits for the FAA to issue an airworthiness directive clearing the Dreamliner to fly again, airlines that have planes being fixed are already planning to resume commercial flights of the Dreamliner.
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Reuters reported Ethiopian Airways has scheduled the first commercial Dreamliner flight for Saturday. Air India may resume by the middle of next week.
Officially, the FAA said it is not yet ready to give airlines the okay to fly the Dreamliner again, but sources said the approval will happen in the next couple of days. After that happens, other aviation agencies around the world are expected to follow the FAA in granting approval for the Dreamliner to fly.
Ramping Up Deliveries and Earnings
For McNerney and Boeing executives, the last three months have been some of the toughest of their careers. he Dreamliner had become a corporate headache that weighed on shares of Boeing and briefly had some on Wall Street wondering if Boeing had lost its way.
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But as Boeing worked with the FAA to come up with a solution for the 787 battery systems, it became clear this crisis would not cripple Boeing. A major problem? Absolutely. But one the company would eventually solve.
Now, the focus is on ramping up deliveries of the 787. Provided there are not major issues with the plane or its revised battery system, Boeing has some room to run. "This decade, this team is committed to harvesting the gains from investments made last decade," said McNerney.
—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau; Follow him on Twitter: @Lebeaucarnews