Chicago — Boeing Co. reaffirmed its outlook Wednesday for strong growth in 2007 and 2008, telling investors it remains on pace for double-digit increases in earnings and revenue as it rides momentum linked to the new 787 jet.
The upbeat assessment came at the aerospace company's annual investor conference in Chicago at a time when Boeing is fast closing in on Airbus for the title of world's leading commercial airplane maker.
Chief Executive Jim McNerney dismissed the notion of a tapering-off in orders for commercial jets amid sizzling sales of the 787, which has racked up 568 orders from at least 44 different customers even before the first model rolls off the assembly line.
''The U.S. and European legacy carriers have yet to order in any substantial quantities,'' he said in a response to an analyst's question at the meeting, which was Webcast. ''So we don't see an immediate end to the cycle.''
McNerney also said it is ''inevitable'' that a third commercial airplane maker, perhaps from China, will emerge eventually to challenge Boeing and Airbus. But he noted that ''it's a 15-to-20-year run before we see a new entry,'' because it takes time to build such a complex business.
Boeing held to forecasts for earnings of between $4.55 and $4.75 per share in 2007 on revenue between $64.5 billion and $65 billion. In 2008, profits are expected to grow to $5.55-$5.75 per share on revenue of $71 billion to $72 billion.
''No matter how you look at it, Boeing is off to a strong start in 2007,'' said Chief Financial Officer James Bell.
The Chicago-based company last month reported 27 percent higher first-quarter earnings that beat Wall Street projections. McNerney said then that it is on pace to overtake Airbus in airplane deliveries by early next year, helped by the momentum generated by the 787.
The new plane is scheduled to enter commercial service next May. It's the first commercial jet that will be made mostly of light, sturdy carbon-fiber composites instead of aluminum and is said to be 20 percent more fuel-efficient than comparable jets.
Boeing said it is on track to roll out the first plane, which will be used for test flights, by July 8. Mike Bair, head of the 787 program, said there will be about a one-month window for those flights starting at the end of August but the company doesn't want to commit to a specific date yet. ''The airplane will fly when it's ready to fly,'' he said.
Shares in the company fell 91 cents to $95.57 Wednesday, two days after reaching their latest all-time high of $97.74