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737NG #4000 waiting to be assembled! Photo by Boeing, of Boeing.

Its really hard to believe that a tube of metal, sitting on a transport dolly, can ever fly. The rivets are clearly seen, the skin in protective paint, and covers for where the windshields should be. This time however, the common sight of a 737 fuelage rolling into Boeing’s Renton plant, is not just another body.

The only thing separating it from the rest is its number. It is 737 NG # 4000, a milestone for the 737NG program. With 2,674 737NG orders still unfulfilled, looks like the #4000 bird is going to eventually lose the limelight to # 5000, #6000, and maybe, #7000.

Four celebrations to look forward to. Well done, Boeing, for a cumulative 6613 civil Boeing 737NG variant orders as of Feb end, 2012, of which 59.5% have been delivered.

With the October 2011 announcement by Boeing of the 737NG production rate having been ramped up to 35 airplanes a month (“Rate 35”), 737NG #4000 should be completely assembled by the 3rd week of April, 2012. #5000 should be ready in the September of 2014; #6000 in the   January of 2017, and #7000 in the June of 2019.

That’s a terrible wait!

Which is why Boeing CA CEO Jim Albaugh, in July 2011, asked his product development team to evaluate the feasibility of further ramping up production to 60 airplanes a month. As of today, the 737NG production will hit “Rate 42” by mid 2014, witnessing “Rate 38” from “Rate 35” somewhere between then and today.

Assuming Rate 38 hits in January 2013, And Rate 42 in mid 2014, #5000 should be out in July 2014; #6000 in July 2016; and #7000 in July 2018, advancing the earlier projected 7000th airframe’s delivery by one solid year.

Boeing badly needs Rate 60, keeping in mind that the Boeing 737 MAX is expected to enter service in 2017.

Disclaimer: Author estimated/assumed production rates. An estimate is an estimate, and an assumption always an assumption. Just for you to get a feel of when you’ll expect the 737NG that you order, today.

Photo from here.