May 2008 Archives

Sights and sounds

We opened up the 787 factory to the world’s media on Monday. It was a great event, and I wanted to share a couple of photos we took during the factory tour.

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The 787 factory in Everett, in full swing as seen on Monday.

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A peek inside the fifth 787 Dreamliner in production. This will be the third airplane to enter the flight test program but the first to be outfitted with a full passenger interior from the beginning.

I want to also share with you a few 787 items I’ve been saving up. I hope they’ll give you a sense of the progress we’re making on the Dreamliner program.

The first item is a short video (3:00) depicting the composite fuselage testing we did earlier this year on a 787 section 46. This is the test where we try to determine the point at which the load on a section will cause damage to the structure. I really like this video not only because it features a bunch of engineers in retro outfits, but also because it depicts the suspense and excitement around the testing as they take it to the limit.

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Click on image to go to the section 46 testing video.

A second video (:30) shows last month’s 787 static test airplane move from Final Assembly to the structural testing rig at the Everett factory. Testing on this airframe will get underway this summer. The movement of the static test airplane made way in the Final Assembly area for Airplane #3 - ZA003.

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Click on image to view the static airplane move video.

Finally, many of you may already have checked this out, but for those of you who haven’t, this is going to be a treat. Boeing recently worked closely with Fortune Magazine to develop an extensive photo gallery on the production of the 787 Dreamliner at our partner sites around the world.

Fortune’s reporter also put together a kind of video diary of his visit to various Dreamliner facilities. He told our team that during his visits he found the employees to have more pride and knowledge of the product than he’s ever witnessed in his career.

One year, one million

I know it’s a cliché, but man did this past year go fast. Last year this time I was just moving into a new office, learning some new ropes, and also blogging for the first time.

But a year - even a quick one - can bring about a lot of changes. Last May we were beginning final assembly on the 787 Dreamliner. Today we’re looking forward to power on and first flight after some disappointing program delays. Across the industry last year, we saw record airplane orders. And this year while orders remain strong, we’re facing some economic uncertainty and high fuel prices. A lot can change in a year.

Where did the time go? Since last spring, we’ve blogged from London, Paris, Beijing, Sydney, Auckland, Seoul, Dubai, Stockholm, Singapore, Santiago, and Hong Kong - not to mention Seattle. So I guess I can figure out where all the time went.

One of the biggest changes or revelations for me since I stepped into this job is how the blog has enabled me to interact with people - online, and out in the world in all those cities I get to visit. Also just how many people read the blog and recognize me from it.

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How do you celebrate a million visitors? With a blog cake, of course.

So it’s no surprise that we’ve also been able to enjoy a pretty special milestone recently – surpassing one million visitors to this journal.

There’s something special about the word, “million” - a certain currency to being a millionaire, or to tell someone they are “one in a million.”

You and all the other visitors to this blog are among the more than one million individuals who have checked us out since we at Commercial Airplanes started this blog a little over three years ago.

This probably doesn’t amount to a lot of visitors compared to some mega-blogs out there which may see a million visitors a month or a week. But for a corporate blog like ours, talking about products that the everyday person can’t go down to the corner and buy and drive home - well, I think it’s pretty remarkable to have hit such a milestone. It tells me that the enthusiasm and excitement for aviation out there is as great as ever.

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Cutting the cake at an employee blog celebration event.

I can’t say for certain who the typical visitor to our blog might be. But I can tell you that we’ve enjoyed a mix of people from about 60 countries who’ve stopped by to read what’s new or to comment on it. So, to each of you who have visited – a big thank you!

Of course, no discussion about the blog would be complete without mentioning our friend Randy Baseler, who started this blog back in January of 2005. Some of you, no doubt, are wondering what Randy’s been up to since he retired last April. So I thought I’d let you see for yourself.

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The original blogger, Randy Baseler, is enjoying life outside Boeing. Here he is in his “office” at the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, Arizona during an RV tour of the desert southwest this past winter.

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“Cowboy up!” Baseler back home in Seattle, just before his family delivered a “subtle hint” that it might be time to shave.

Yes, life after Boeing has been tough for Randy. He spent the winter in the desert, and also managed to squeeze in some skiing at Sun Valley, Idaho.

As Randy will tell you, the blog was born out of a time when some people were wondering out loud whether Boeing was even going to remain in the commercial airplanes business. In 2004, Boeing had recorded only 272 orders, and the media and analysts were hailing the arrival of the superjumbo A380 as the airplane of the future.

You may recall that we launched the blog right around the time the A380 rolled out. It was a chance for us to give a tip of the hat to our competitors on a big day for them, but also for us to tell our story too. Over the months that followed, this blog has been a forum for kudos as well as some good-natured sparring with the competition - but mostly focused on our world-class products and services - while having some fun in the process.

As I’ve discovered this year, that’s not as easy as it sounds. It actually takes a lot of focus – seven days a week. A schedule that Randy Baseler no longer has to concern himself with, as he enjoys a cold beverage in the sun.

Or as Randy himself puts it, for him now, “every day’s a Saturday. Except Sunday.”

The conversation

In the past, some people might have seen labor negotiations as a difficult, but necessary task to get through. But in 2008 we’re taking the view that the conversation getting underway today represents a tremendous opportunity.

As Boeing begins negotiating new contracts with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), it’s our intention to move away from the culture of last-minute bargaining. As our V.P. of human resources, Doug Kight says, we want to make this an open and transparent process.

That’s why we’ve agreed to start discussions with the union sooner than we did in past years. We want to spend more time listening, understanding issues, and making sure our employees and their families have a grasp on the value of the contracts when members vote in September.

Clearly, the challenge as we go forward these next several months is to continue the momentum we’ve had as a company, and work together to stay competitive, keep our commitments to our customers, and to sustain good jobs for generations to come.

During the negotiations process, we’ll discuss, listen, and continue to communicate even when we disagree. The ultimate goal is to arrive at solutions that are in the best interests of our employees, and our customers and communities, as well as the company.

You can check out our 2008 labor negotiations Web site. And you can also read more about the start of contract talks here.

Single aisle redux

HONG KONG - I’ve been on the road again this week, first in Thailand, and now in Hong Kong for a speech at the Royal Aeronautical Society and to meet with some reporters.

Typically, in my travels, one of the top 2 or 3 questions people pose is: “When are we going to see a “single-aisle” (737-size) replacement?” I think this is a good time to update you on that question.

It’s hard for me to believe, but the last time we talked about this in the blog was a couple of years back when my colleague, Mr. Baseler, shared his unique double take on the subject.

So, you might ask, has anything changed? Well, I’d say that our thinking has not so much changed, but evolved a bit.

We still believe that the Next-Generation 737 is a great product – in fact it’s the most efficient single-aisle airplane operating today, and is still the all-time best-selling commercial airliner. So, you can imagine that developing an airplane that delivers a better value is proving to be a tremendous challenge.

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In Renton, the moving production line makes it easy to incorporate enhancements onto Next-Generation 737s. About 90% of 737 operators now choose to add fuel-saving, emission-reducing Blended Winglets. And Boeing will incorporate the latest announced enhancement - weight-saving carbon brakes - into the production line later this year.

We’re continuing to study the market, and learning more about what our airline customers need for the future. Obviously, a significant improvement in operating efficiency remains the common thread. And when I say significant, I mean significant. For instance, 15-20% improvement in fuel efficiency and 20-30% reduction in maintenance cost.

As I and my Boeing colleagues have said many times and in many forums, to do this is going to take real breakthroughs in every part of the airplane. We need new engine technologies, and improvements in materials and aerodynamics, as well as new aircraft systems.

Based on how technology is evolving, and what we know today, we now believe the replacement of the Next-Generation 737 will be ready late in the next decade.

In the meantime, we’ll also be studying ways to create even more value in our Next-Generation 737. We’ve steadily enhanced this airplane over the past several years, improving performance, comfort, and navigation precision. We’re looking at possible additional improvements such as interior enhancements, lower weight and drag, and improved engine efficiency.

Boeing and our partners will continue to invest in all the technologies needed for a new generation narrow-body (it may or may not have a single aisle), that will economically replace the 737 and A320 – to ensure the earliest possible entry in to the market.

I’ve always said that our product strategy is shaped by our market forecast, by technology, and most importantly by working with our customers to understand their needs and requirements.

This is a case where there’s clearly a market – more than 17,000 airplanes in the next 20 years. But just as clearly, first the technology needs to be developed in order to produce the right airplane to satisfy that huge market.

ZA003

This week we loaded the newest 787 Dreamliner into position in the Everett factory, and I wanted to share a couple of pretty amazing photos with you.

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The newest Dreamliner – designated ZA003 – in first position in the 787 factory. In this view you can see all the major assemblies for the airplane (minus the wings) in the pre-integration area of Final Assembly.

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It’s remarkable how the handful of large assemblies come together with the wings to form the airplane. We took this photo yesterday, just a couple of days after the first image.

When it’s completed sometime this summer, this airplane will represent the first time we’ll get a look at something close to “delivery configuration.” ZA003 is scheduled to be fitted with an interior as part of its certification and flight testing.

By the way, this is airplane number 5 on the production line, but it’s actually flight test airplane number 3 – hence the ZA003 designation. Two other airplanes are destined for static testing and fatigue testing and will not be delivered to customers. They are all among the 25 Dreamliners in various stages of production right now around the globe.

 

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