What the potential loss of Iran airplane deal means for Boeing, Spirit

The 737 assembly line at Boeing's Renton, Wash., plant. (May 2, 2018)
The 737 assembly line at Boeing's Renton, Wash., plant. (May 2, 2018) The Wichita Eagle

On the surface, it looks like Wichita's Spirit AeroSystems could lose a big chunk of work from Boeing with President Donald Trump's announcement Tuesday that he is pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal.

That's because the U.S. exit from the deal and a reinstatement of sanctions against the Middle East country would prohibit the Boeing sale from going through.

But given the companies' nearly decade-long airplane production backlog, that may not have much of an effect at all on Spirit's and Boeing's fortunes.

Boeing planned to sell as many as 100 737s and 30 777s to Iran Air and Iran Aseman Airlines — plans announced more than a year ago.

Nearly three-quarters of the Boeing 737 is manufactured at Spirit's Wichita plant, which employs more than 11,000 people. The Wichita plant also manufactures the 777's forward fuselage, wing leading edges, nacelles — or engine covers — and pylons, which hold the jet engines to the wing.

Asked what the potential loss means for Spirit, a spokeswoman referred questions to Boeing on the impact of the loss.

"We work closely with our customers to meet their production goals.," Spirit spokeswoman Keturah Austin said in an e-mail to The Eagle. "Any specific questions regarding their (Boeing's) customer demand should be addressed directly to them."

Officially, Boeing said in an e-mail statement to The Eagle on Wednesday "we will consult with the U.S. Government on next steps. As we have throughout this process, we’ll continue to follow the U.S. Government’s lead."

But Boeing never included the Iran Air or Aseman agreements in its backlog of airplanes for which it has firm orders. According to Boeing's orders and deliveries website on Wednesday, its 737 backlog stands at 4,622 airplanes. It has a backlog of 415 777s.

In announcing the Iran Air and Aseman deals, in December 2016 and April 2017, Boeing referred to each as agreements and not orders.

Cowen analyst Cai von Rumohr said in a note to investors late Tuesday that the "Iran sanctions decision (is) not a serious risk" to Boeing.

"Loss of 737's won't dent BA's 737 deliveries given its backlog at the end of April included 4,622 737's," von Rumohr wrote. Nor does it pose a risk to the 777 and the new 777X, "which looks mostly filled through 2020 by firm orders in backlog," he said.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Ken Herbert mostly agreed with von Rumohr in a note to investors late Tuesday.

"The potential slots for the 737 aircraft are not difficult to fill, considering the (about) 9 year backlog on that program," Herbert wrote. "The loss of the potential 777 orders is more impactful, as the delivery of these aircraft would have been a significant help to Boeing as it works to fill its 777 bridge to the 777X."

The Iran deal removed sanctions that shut Iran out of international banking and the global oil trade. In return, the Iranian government limited its ability to enrich uranium and produce plutonium and agree to international inspections and monitoring.

In this timelapse video, crews add the finishing touches to a 737 Max 9 Boeing jetliner. (Courtesy of Boeing)

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark