2009-05-14 / Local & State

Boeing Jetliner Orders Tumble In April


PITTSBURGH (AP) - Boeing Co. on Thursday reported a sharp drop in orders for its passenger and cargo jets in April, as the troubled global economy continued to hurt demand from airlines and cargo services.

Boeing, the world's No. 2 plane maker after France-based Airbus, has grappled with weaker demand in recent months as the recession has forced airlines to cancel or postpone plans to buy new planes. Limited access to credit also has made it more difficult for potential customers to finance new aircraft purchases.

Customers have canceled orders for 59 planes this year, all but two of them for the company's hot-selling but long-delayed 787, a next-generation aircraft built for fuel efficiency with lightweight carbon composite parts. That's left Boeing with a negative balance of one order for 2009.

In April, the Chicago-based aerospace company received orders for 17 jetliners, down from 58 during the same month last year, according to figures posted on the company's Web site.

Craig Fraser, an analyst at Fitch Ratings, said he wasn't concerned about the drop in orders.

"They still have a very big backlog," he said. "The key issue is what happens with production rates next year."

Planned production cuts forced Boeing to take a big firstquarter charge. It also forecast lower earnings and aircraft prices for the year.

Boeing said it delivered 39 planes in April, down slightly from 40 delivered during the same month in 2008. The company gets paid for planes when they are delivered.

While airlines generally have been more cautious about or- dering planes, they are still taking deliveries on orders placed before the recession.

Last month, AMR Corp.'s American Airlines began adding 76 new Boeing jets to its fleet, with deliveries running through 2011. The 737-800s will replace about a quarter of its aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jets. And Continental Airlines Inc. has 87 Boeing aircraft on firm order, with delivery planned through 2016.

At Boeing's annual meeting last week, Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney assured shareholders that the company was in strong shape to ride out a "once-in-a-lifetime" downturn that has walloped its profits, jetliner orders and stock price.

He pointed to Boeing's huge backlog of orders, diversification between its commercial airplane and defense businesses and progress on its long-delayed 787, a next-generation aircraft scheduled to fly for the first time before July.

Shares of Boeing fell 67 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $43.53 in afternoon trading Thursday.

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