Boeing keeps focus on deliveries even as Airbus wins title for orders

Boeing Co. delivered the first 787-9 model to Air New Zealand from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, in July.

Boeing Co. officials on Tuesday shrugged off their loss in the annual race with Airbus for commercial airplane orders, saying they’re focusing instead on that part of their business that pays the bills — deliveries.

“Net orders, gross orders is not what we truly focus on,” John Wojick, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said during a conference call Tuesday. “Orders are indicative of future performance potentially, but the reality and where the rubber hits the road is when airplanes actually deliver.”

Airbus, which announced its annual totals Tuesday, barely won the closely watched race with 1,456 net new orders in 2014, compared with 1,432 for Boeing.

However, Boeing delivered 723 planes to customers for the year — including 114 of the Dreamliners it makes at plants in North Charleston and Everett, Wash. — compared to 629 deliveries by Toulouse, France-based Airbus. It’s the third consecutive year in which Boeing has delivered more planes to customers than its European rival.

All told, Boeing has delivered 228 Dreamliners since production of the fuel-efficient twin-aisle plane made of composite materials started in 2007.

“If you focus solely on winning the order battle, I’m not so sure that’s the only measure of quality,” Wojick said. “It’s not the only thing that’s important.”

Wojick called Boeing’s production backlog — which stretches well into 2020 with 5,785 orders — smaller yet stronger than its competitor’s.

Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, added that despite having a larger backlog, Airbus consistently has failed to deliver as many planes.

“We work very hard to do business that we believe will result in actual deliveries,” Wojick said. “Granted, 100 percent of our orders do not result in deliveries, but we have a much stronger track record of order to delivery completion than our competitor.”

Wojick said the company expects demand for its Dreamliner models to increase over time, although he admitted the current backlog of 787s — the company has 843 unfilled orders, including 41 net orders from last year — could lead to a temporary slowdown in sales.

“The only reason we don’t see more is that we’re offering airplanes out to 2020 and beyond,” he said. “I think people are looking at their fleet plans that far out but, obviously, planning six years out is a big challenge for any business. As we progress forward, we’ll see more demand for 787s.”

That’s true even if oil prices hold steady or continue to fall from their current level of about $45 per barrel. Tinseth said oil’s previous low in 2009 hit as the first Dreamliner was preparing to launch, and sales were strong even then.

“The best way to address the volatility (in oil prices) is to have the most fuel-efficient planes,” Tinseth said.

Aging airline fleets also are helping to drive sales.

“Airplanes are aging out there and airlines have to replace them,” Wojick said. “They are in that replacement cycle. We really don’t see any near- or potentially medium-term impacts as a result of fuel prices.”

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren.