Boeing to deliver big bonuses

Interior of Boeing's customer delivery center, which opened in November.

Leroy Burnell

It just got even better to be on board with Boeing.

Shareholders and employees, including more than 4,500 workers in North Charleston, received good news Wednesday as the company announced record revenues in 2011 and a related performance bonus of 15 days' pay for most of its non-union workforce.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes was responsible for slightly more than half of the aerospace giant's overall $68.7 billion in revenues last year. Even though they have not yet delivered a single Dreamliner for that booming business unit, all employees at Boeing South Carolina, except a handful of executives, will get their bonuses in mid-February.

So will the 140 employees at the Boeing Interiors Responsibility Center near Ladson, which started production Monday, and the Boeing employees supporting the C-17 military transport aircraft at Joint Base Charleston, according to Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger.

Boeing contractors, who number in the hundreds, are not eligible for the employee incentive plan awards.

The bonus, which exceeded last year's reward, is "one of the nice benefits of working for Boeing," Eslinger said.

"It's always an exciting time of year," she said Wednesday.

During a morning conference call with analysts and reporters to discuss fourth-quarter and full-year earnings, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney spoke highly of the local 787-building operation.

Echoing previous assessments, McNerney said the aft, mid-body and final-assembly units in North Charleston are keeping up with the overall Dreamliner program.

"Final assembly, actually we're slightly ahead of our plan in final assembly," he said. "I feel good about the execution I'm seeing down there."

The first S.C.-made plane, which was outfitted with its engines late last week, remains in the fourth of five assembly-line positions and is scheduled for delivery to Air India in the second quarter of this year, Eslinger confirmed.

Boeing expects to hand over a total of 75 to 80 Dreamliners and 747-8 freighters in 2012, "of which approximately half are 787 aircraft," the company said Wednesday. That projection seemed to trouble analysts, perhaps because of Boeing's history of missing Dreamliner delivery targets.

The first innovative dual-aisle 787 was delivered in September more than three years behind schedule, and only two more Dreamliners -- also out of Everett, Wash. -- were delivered in the rest of 2011, a total that didn't reach even a downwardly revised goal.

At issue Wednesday was the puzzling combination of Boeing's 787 production rate ramp-up plan -- from the current rate of 2.5 per month to 3.5 per month next quarter to five a month by the end of the year -- and a statement that two-thirds of this year's deliveries will come out of post- assembly change incorporation, not directly off the two main production lines.

McNerney, who was joined on the call by Boeing's soon-to-be CFO Greg Smith, insisted that Boeing's goal of delivering 10 787s per month still "looks manageable as we sit here today." Smith, who will succeed 40-year Boeing veteran James Bell at the end of the quarter, added that if and when the 10-per-month goal is reached, Boeing would "consider" ramping up even higher.

A company spokesman would not give an estimated delivery breakdown between the two final assembly facilities, only saying "several" planes would be delivered out of North Charleston this year.

The second Charleston plane is coming together a couple of positions behind the first.

During what McNerney called a "pivotal" year in 2011, Boeing recorded earnings of $4 billion, or $5.34 per share. Almost $1.4 billion of those earnings and more than $19.5 billion of annual revenues came in the last three months of the year, when Boeing signed a series of three successively record-setting airplane orders.

Boeing expects to set an annual revenue benchmark this year, as much as $80 billion.

But the Chicago-based aircraft company's news was not all good Wednesday, as McNerney noted cargo traffic and U.S. defense spending are down, and Smith said pension costs would continue to be "headwind."

Despite the concerns, McNerney said Boeing is poised for more success.

"This is the moment we have been waiting for, and we look forward to delivering on the promise," he said.

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.