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Brand-new Next Generation 737's, built for airlines from around the world, await pickup at Boeing's 737 delivery center in Seattle.

Delivering 737s on demand

By Bernard Choi

At Boeing's 737 delivery center on a recent Thursday, new and freshly-painted Next-Generation 737s awaited four airlines from different continents: Australia, Europe, Asia and North America.

737

Boeing/Bernard Choi

Monica Dustin, a Boeing customer relations representative, wraps a red bow on an airstair in preparation for an airplane delivery ceremony.

"And we have five other airlines picking up airplanes this week," said Monica Dustin, a customer relations representative. "It gets quite busy around here."

To be here is to see the strong global demand for single-aisle jets in general, and 737s in particular.

On the recent Thursday, Dustin made sure caterers had set up food and drinks for airlines slated to take delivery of new airplanes that day. Meanwhile, Erick Hall, a flight dispatcher, briefed the pilots from one of the carriers on the best route from Seattle back to their home base.

"We operate more like an airline operations center," said Hall. "We're running flight plans, tracking flights."

Even before Hall began his pre-flight briefing, the ground operations crew had pulled the new jetliners up to the six-story building at the edge of Seattle's Boeing Field.

Boeing engineers monitor

Boeing/Bernard Choi

A Boeing flight dispatcher briefs two airline pilots on the best route from Seattle to their home base in Norway.

Outside, more than a dozen 737s sat on the flight line awaiting delivery. A scan of the liveries showed airlines from every region and every business model. It has been this way for years, even during the global recession, and it shows no signs of letting up.

"Right now, we're having a lot of airlines come in and say, in order to meet their growth and replacement requirements for the 737, they need more 737s than we're currently producing," said Beverly Wyse, the vice president and general manager of the 737 program.

This on-going demand shows why Boeing is raising the 737 production rate from 31.5 per month today to 35 planes a month in 2012 and up again to 38 in 2013.

Over the next 20 years, airlines will need 21,000 single-aisle jets, many of those will be 737's, Boeing Current Market Outlook

On Sept. 16, the same day Boeing announced the latest production rate increase, it booked 15 more orders for the 737, adding to a backlog of more than 2,000 airplanes. And over the next 20 years, the Boeing Current Market Outlook sees airlines needing 21,000 single-aisle jets, many of those will be 737s.

Boeing engineers monitor

Boeing/Bernard Choi

A member of the Boeing team waves goodbye to an airline crew from China.

"We don't take [the rate increase] lightly," said Wyse. "We've worked very closely with the supply chain, with our internal partners, and the team has used the innovation that they bring to work each and every day to ensure that we do it successfully."

With more airplane deliveries on the horizon, Monica Dustin and her team will have to do more juggling to accommodate the visiting airline crews, but it's something they're used to.

"We have customers that are taking so many airplanes a month that they're pretty much a permanent resident," she said.

"For some crews, it's very prestigious to come and take part in [a] delivery process," said Hall, the flight dispatcher. "It's nice to feel that we can take part in that."