Boeing warns about unclaimed 747-8 production slots

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Boeing could be forced to slow down production or build unsold 747-8s after 2013, the company warns in a new filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

A "number" of unsold production slots for 747-8 Freighters and Intercontinental passenger models must be filled after this year to keep production on track at a rate of two aircraft per month, Boeing says in the annual filing.

"If we are unable to obtain orders for multiple Freighter aircraft in 2013 consistent with our near-term production plans, we may be required to take actions including reducing the number of airplanes produced and/or building airplanes for which we have not received firm orders," Boeing says.

As of 31 January, Boeing had 67 unfilled orders for 747-8s, including 39 747-8Fs and 28 747-8Is. The company is building 747-8s at a rate of 24 per year, but customers have not claimed all of the delivery slots for next year.

The market has not yet appeared to turn in Boeing's favour. Overall air cargo demand remains weak and Boeing's expected level of interest in the passenger model by airlines has not yet materialised.

Meanwhile, Boeing says it will continue focusing on reducing travelled work, improving supply chain efficiency and implementing cost reductions.

"If market and production risks cannot be mitigated," Boeing adds, "the program could face an additional reach-forward loss that may be material."

Spirit AeroSystems, which supplies the 747-8 nose section among other components, has not adjusted its production plans so far, chief executive Jeff Turner told analysts on a teleconference today.

"Right now we're assuming that those [unclaimed positions] are going to fill in," Turner says.