Thursday, June 09, 2011

Boeing 787 Dreamliner at roll-out ceremony
Saving Boeing's Bacon

By Rich Smith
June 9, 2011

Newsflash: Air India may just have saved Boeing's (NYSE: BA ) bacon.

As you know, Boeing's just about ready to deliver its first 787 Dreamliner to inaugural airline customer All-Nippon Airways. On the surface, that's good news, but two days ago, I described how it could turn into bad news for Boeing. As the company begins deliveries of the long overdue aircraft, the official amount of delay could become "fixed in time," permitting lawyers to draft their complaints and begin demanding penalty payments from Boeing.

Already, 787 suppliers like Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE: SPR ) have begun demanding penalties from Boeing. Now its customers are hitting up the company for payouts, too. One customer in particular, Air India, has publicly charged that Boeing's tardiness cost it $1.32 billion in lost revenues. If AI decides to seek redress from Boeing, it could imperil the 787's ability to earn a profit.

Or not

That's why this morning's news is so very good for Boeing. Citing a cash-crunch and consequent inability to pay for new planes, Air India is reportedly planning to ask Boeing to delay delivery of its 787s even more. The decision isn't official yet, but if this is the way it goes, it would echo a similar postponement by Delta (NYSE: DAL ) announced last year. And it would be great news for Boeing, for two reasons:

First, by stepping out of the receiving line for 787s -- however briefly -- Air India will allow other customers to move ahead. Thus customers such as AMR (NYSE: AMR ) and United Continental (NYSE: UAL ) could receive their 787s earlier than expected. This will make for both happier customers and lower penalty payments for Boeing.

And speaking of penalties, Air India alone is said to be seeking $840 million worth of 'em for its $1.32 billion revenue loss. This amounts to 10.4% of the value of AI's $8.1 billion 787 order. It's a number big enough to wipe out Boeing's 9.4% operating profit margin on commercial aircraft, and transform the 787 from "most successful airplane ever" into "Boeing's biggest loser."

Foolish takeaway

Worst case, by initiating a delay of its own, Air India should permit Boeing to offset some of the penalties it owes for late delivery to one customer, and reduce the risk of paying penalties to customers like AMR and United. Best case, Air India could undermine its case for demanding penalties at all -- and give Boeing a fighting chance at earning a profit on the 787.

Will Air India follow through, and delay delivery? Add Boeing to your Fool Watchlist and stay informed.
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