Boeing Co stood by the troubled lithium-ion battery technology that this month grounded its new, high-tech 787 Dreamliner and said on Wednesday that the grounding had no significant impact on its 2013 financial forecast.
It's "business as usual," CEO Jim McNerney said as the Chicago company posted market-beating profits for the fourth quarter.
Responding to revelations that the 787 battery has had more problems than previously disclosed, Boeing said it will speed up production of the jet as planned and that it had not advised suppliers to slow down shipments of pieces for the 787, the most widely outsourced jet in the company's 97-year history.
"Nothing that we have learned has told us that we have made the wrong choice on the battery technology," McNerney said on a conference call with analysts and journalists following release of fourth quarter results.
"We feel good about the battery technology and its fit for the airplane. We have just got to get to the root cause of these incidents and we will take a look at the data as it evolves, but there is nothing that we have learned that causes us to question it at this stage."
Boeing has replaced more than 100 787 batteries for customers and its own use, according to a person familiar with the matter, who noted that 787 production started six years ago.
McNerney said replacement was "a matter of routine maintenance rather than any safety concerns" and not something airlines would ordinarily report to regulators.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it did not get any advance notice of the battery problems, which occurred over months. The National Transportation Safety Board said it received information about the replaced batteries early in its investigation.
In contrast, the probe into the cause of two burnt batteries this month involves hundreds of experts from Boeing and outside the company. But that effort is "highly compartmentalized" and "it's not drawing any critical resources from any other growth programs we've got," McNerney said.
"Our plan is to continue production of the 787 and to continue the development of the wide-body airplanes."
The statements came as Boeing posted a fourth-quarter results that beat market expectations, thanks in large part to its ability to speed up jet production and keep costs down.
Its shares closed up nearly 1.3 percent at $74.59.
Aviation safety agencies in the United States and Japan are investigating what caused lithium-ion batteries to burn on two 787 passenger jets earlier this month, prompting the worldwide grounding.
Boeing has since halted 787 deliveries and analysts have raised concerns about the cost of the grounding and fixing the battery problem on about 125 jets that Boeing has built so far.
But Boeing released a forecast for 2013 that included no significant impact from the 787.
The company expects to deliver at least 60 Dreamliners in 2013, fewer than the 80 jets or more that some analysts expected, but a figure that implies a four-month delay in delivery, since Boeing is making five 787s a month.
McNerney said Boeing still plans to increase 787 production to seven a month by mid-year and 10 a month by year-end.
The new production forecast raised some eyebrows. Russell Solomon at Moody's Investors Service was forecasting 100 787 deliveries and said Boeing's forecast of more than 60