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Boeing eyes rivals as it turns 100

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NEW YORK: Boeing, creator of some of the world’s most iconic aircraft of the 20th century, commemorates its centennial Friday facing multiple challenges to remain at the forefront of global aerospace innovation.

At the top of the list is European archrival Airbus, which has topped Boeing in commercial orders in recent years and made inroads into the American market by building planes on US shores.

Boeing also faces tough going in defense, having lost a US contract for the long range strike bomber to Northrop Grumman, and another from the US and allies for a joint strike fighter to Lockheed Martin.

That leaves Boeing with only the delay-plagued KC-46 tanker program for the US Air Force, a deal it controversially wrested out of Airbus’ hands.

“Boeing’s biggest challenge is Airbus,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute. “Whether Boeing keeps up or beats Airbus will determine the future of the company.”

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To stay strong in defense, Boeing must beef up its operations in maintenance of military vehicles, analysts say. In space travel, another longtime core activity, Boeing faces upstarts like SpaceX, which has been aggressive on price.

“Technologically they are positioned, but they are not well positioned in terms of pricing” in space travel, said Marco Caceres of Teal Group. “They are going to have to figure out how to become leaner, or otherwise they won’t be able to compete for much longer.”

Boeing insists it will stay at the top. Chief executive Dennis Muilenburg told USA Today in June that it is building a rocket that will let man set foot on Mars.”It’s about 50 percent bigger than the Saturn V that took humans to the moon,” he said.

Boeing also faces obstacles on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have sought to block a controversial contract to sell some $25 billion in planes to Iran. That came after a lengthy fight over the Export-Import Bank weakened an institution that has long supported Boeing.

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Global Icon

Still, analysts say Boeing continues to have cache as a “global icon,” as Teal Group’s Richard Aboulafia put it. Boeing had revenues of $96 billion in 2015 and has a multi-year backlog of orders for a civil aviation market that it believes will be worth nearly $6 trillion over the next 20 years.

First founded July 15 in 1916 in Seattle by William Boeing as the Pacific Aero Products Co., Boeing has evolved into the biggest exporter in the United States.

The company grew rapidly during and after World War I, expanding into air transport, but was broken up by the US government in 1934 on antitrust grounds. William Boeing sold his holdings in the company.

The company’s ability to survive without its founder positioned it for growth when World War II sparked huge demand for its B-17 and B-29 bombers.

Strong US military demand for the subsequent B-47 and B-52 bombers boosted Boeing during the Cold War.

Growth was then fueled by a succession of popular commercial planes unveiled in later decades, especially the famous Boeing 747. But today’s competitive landscape also includes smaller rivals, such as Canada’s Bombardier and China’s Comac.

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Boeing – 100 years of flight, in peace and war

A pioneer in commercial air travel and a major player in building military aircraft, Boeing’s 100-year history coincides with many of the defining moments in US and global history.

1916: William Boeing starts the Pacific Aero Products Co., which was renamed after its founder a year later. Boeing’s first planes, the Model C wooden seaplanes, were sold to the US Navy for World War I, establishing a key alliance with the US military.

1927: Boeing creates its own airline, Boeing Air Transport, for transporting mail with its Model 40 biplanes. The model would become the first Boeing airplane to carry passengers.

1934: Boeing, accused of monopolistic practices, is forced to break up into three entities: United Technologies, United Airlines and Boeing. Founder William Boeing divests his holdings in the company.

1937: Boeing delivers the first B-17s to the US Army Air Corps, the giant “Flying Fortress” bomber that played a central role in the Allied victory in World War II.

1941: The British Royal Air Force takes delivery of B-17s, giving them their first taste of combat.

1954: The massive jet-powered B-52 Stratofortress becomes the US military’s symbol of power in the Cold War, to hold a key place in the US Air Force up through today.

1958: Pan Am, the leading US airline, unveils the Boeing 707, which soon became the first commercially successful jet airliner. Television ads showed well-heeled passengers sipping red wine and enjoying vibration-free travel, a sign of the post-war US economic boom.

1962: Boeing introduces the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, used in troop movement and battlefield resupply prominently in the Vietnam War.

1969: The Boeing-built Saturn V rocket propels astronaut Neil Armstrong to the moon.

1970: The 400 passenger 747 Jumbo Jet, more than twice as large as the 707, is launched to dominate international air travel and cargo over the next decades.

1970: Boeing archrival Airbus is created originally as a joint effort of the German and French governments.

1977: Two 747s collide on the runway of the Canary Islands, killing 583 passengers in the deadliest plane crash in history. The accident sparked sweeping upgrades to international safety regulations.

1987: Boeing is added to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the prestigious index of blue chip companies.

1997: Boeing acquires American archrival McDonnell Douglas for $13.3 billion, slimming the field of major commercial aircraft makers to just two, Boeing and Airbus, and beefing up its capacity as an international weapons maker.

2001: Boeing picks Chicago as its new corporate headquarters after the midwestern city offers up some $60 million in tax incentives to move from Seattle, the company’s production base.

2011: After numerous delays, Boeing’s newest passenger jet, the widebody Dreamliner, completes its first commercial flight from Narita, Japan to Hong Kong. The planes, known for fuel efficiency, were later grounded due to an overheating problem with the lithium-ion batteries.

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