US planemaker Boeing famously commandeered an employee parking lot to store its grounded 737 MAX aircraft last year. Now, it seems that another model is beginning to cause the same headache. With customers unwilling or unable to receive deliveries of their new 787 Dreamliners, Boeing has an estimated 50 undelivered widebodies around its facilities. It seems to be running out of space to park these too.
Running out of space
With demand for large, long-haul planes understandably dampened by the current situation, Boeing is facing yet another challenge. As customers move to cancel, delay or reschedule deliveries, the manufacturer is dealing with an unprecedented surplus of 787 Dreamliners, and is reportedly running out of space to park them.
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Boeing fan and blogger Uresh Sheth meticulously tracks every Dreamliner through production, rollout and delivery. Right now, he estimates the number of 787s parked around Boeing’s facilities to be somewhere in the region of 50. That’s twice as many as the manufacturer would usually have waiting to be delivered to customers.
Added to the surplus of grounded Boeing 737 MAX the planemaker has parked up all over its facilities, it’s no surprise Boeing is running out of space. According to reporting in Bloomberg, numerous Dreamliners are parked on a closed runway adjacent to Boeing’s Seattle plant. In Charleston, a paint hangar has been taken over for airliner parking, and others can be seen tucked around every spare inch of space by the delivery center.
According to Sheth, a handful of 787s have even been sent to the desert storage facility at Victorville while they await delivery.
Unprecedented production rate
Before the current downturn in the aviation industry, the Dreamliner was one of Boeing’s best-selling product lines. Racking up over 1,500 orders since it was made available in 2004, Boeing has so far delivered 975 and maintains a backlog of over 500.
With such a strong backlog and forecasts that the popularity of the type would continue, Boeing ramped up production last year to 14 aircraft a month. That level of output was greater than any other widebody had ever been produced. At the time, Boeing was banking on travel demand continuing to grow exponentially for some years to come. Unfortunately, the gamble didn’t pay off.
When the crisis hit, Boeing cut Dreamliner production to just 10 a month. That number may yet need to be reduced further. In the first half of 2020, just 36 Dreamliners were delivered, down from 78 in 2019. In the last two months, only three have been handed over.
Not all of the stored Dreamliners are unwanted by their clients. While some will undoubtedly want to push back their deliveries as much as is feasible, others simply don’t want to send their pilots to the virus-stricken USA until it gets a handle on the outbreak. As such, we could see a number of these aircraft delivered before the year-end.
Longer-term, the general consensus is that international travel will be slower to pick up than domestic and regional demand. As such, not many airlines will be looking to place widebody orders in the immediate future. However, with many airlines retiring older, less efficient aircraft, the Dreamliner is ideally placed to be a go-to model when travel demand recovers.