(Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N) is on track to hit its production rate target for the 787 Dreamliner next year and is studying the possibility of raising that target, the head of the planemaker’s commercial airplanes unit said on Tuesday.
The 787, which came to market last year, is more than three years behind its production schedule because of development delays, and some experts doubt that Boeing can increase production to its target of 10 per month by the end of next year. The current production rate is 3.5 per month.
The light-weight, carbon-composite 787 is one of Boeing’s most visible projects. The company has taken more than 850 orders for the plane from customers hungry for its promised fuel savings.
“To go to 10, I believe the real issues are going to be under our control,” Jim Albaugh, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said on a webcast of the company’s annual investor conference. He said program leaders are exploring whether the company can make the planes even faster.
“Just last week, they finally put a number higher than 10 on the chart,” Albaugh said. “Now don’t write down that we’re going to higher than 10, but we’re trying to understand what it would take to get higher than 10. Once we get to 10, we’ll look at where we want to go from there.”
Boeing, which competes for orders with European rival Airbus EAD.PA, aims to assemble seven Dreamliners per month at its Washington factory and three per month at its second assembly plant, in South Carolina.
Last month, Albaugh said he believes the South Carolina 787 assembly line can hit or exceed its rate target.
Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace and defense company, turned in a stronger-than-expected first-quarter profit last month as it pulled in orders while accelerating production on all its commercial airplane programs.
Speaking earlier on Tuesday’s webcast, Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney said demand for new planes was growing because global airlines were fundamentally healthy.
“Commercial airplanes remains an attractive growth market,” he said. “Despite the choppy pace of global economic recovery, airline fundamentals generally remain intact, and demand for new planes is strong and growing and fueled by replacement aircraft in many many cases.”
Boeing logged orders for 805 commercial airplanes in 2011, adjusted for cancellations. But it lost the order race to Airbus, which had orders for 1,419.
Reporting by Kyle Peterson in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and John Wallace