November 2008 Archives

Bountiful harvest

As we here in the U.S. get set to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, the Next-Generation 737 family is celebrating two recent milestones - the 15th anniversary of the program’s launch and the 5,000th Next-Generation 737 order.

Either of those two achievements by themselves would be noteworthy. But put them together and it’s really extraordinary. It means that the Next-Generation 737 has reached the 5,000th order milestone faster than any other commercial jetliner. Picture this: if you could take all the Next-Generation 737s currently on order and put them nose-to-tail, the line would be 55 miles long.

Since the launch order from Southwest Airlines for 63 737-700s on Nov. 17, 1993, we’ve averaged more than 330 orders each year for this incredibly capable airplane. To put that in perspective, there are programs out there that would consider it a success to have 330 orders, period.

And as you can see below, this is an airplane that has made its mark with customers across the globe.

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Next-Generation 737 customers are everywhere. Click on the map to go to an interactive version featuring congratulatory messages from many of our airline customers around the world.

It’s no coincidence that Southwest was the launch customer - and is our largest customer for the “Next-Gen.” They developed the successful low-fare airline model that’s now been duplicated in many other regions. And the magic behind that business model is flying a single airplane type. That means that pilots and mechanics need to be trained on only one kind of airplane. It also means lower inventory, simplified record keeping and efficient maintenance costs. With a single airplane type you minimize the number of technical manuals, tools and spare parts, and of course fleet management is greatly simplified.

Obviously, though, it has to be the right airplane. And the Next-Generation 737 has been such a success for airlines worldwide because it is reliable and provides low operating costs. And while it’s really hard to improve on such a winning airplane, we’ve done it. We’ve steadily enhanced the 737 over the past several years - with improvements in performance, comfort and navigation precision.

The 737 is the backbone of carriers around the world, and not just low-cost carriers. It’s been ordered by more than 100 airlines and leasing companies from Aeromexico to Xiamen Airlines. It’s the hugely popular base of the Boeing Business Jet and is the platform for the P-8A Poseidon. It’s even being used as an on-demand flying hospital in Sweden.

On top of everything else, now that’s something to be thankful for!

Take this broken wing

I wanted to briefly talk the successful destructive testing over the weekend of a 787 Dreamliner composite wing box, and point you to a fascinating video of the milestone.

The test is part of the certification process – but doesn’t literally require us to “destroy” the wing box. However we did take it to the breaking point, as you can see in the photo – and that point was indeed beyond the required 150% of the highest stress the jet could experience in operation.

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Click on the image to go to a video of the 787 wing box destructive testing and to see some other images.

Testing to destruction means putting the structure through pressures higher than its intended design, to a point where it breaks in a critical location. It’s a way to evaluate how the structure – in this case the wing box – behaves under high stress. If in fact, as was the case here, the structure goes beyond what’s required for the design, it speaks well for the integrity and safety of that element of the airplane.

The wing box, by the way, is the structure that connects the wing to the fuselage and supports a number of key systems including landing gear and engines. In this test we used a section that is about 50 feet (15.2 meters) long and attached more than 1,700 sensors, or strain gauges on the wing box for the test.

Now, you may recall the dramatic video of the last time Boeing Commercial Airplanes conducted a wing-break test. That was back in 1995 for the 777. As the 787 primary wing structure is the first on a Boeing commercial jetliner to be made out of composites, the test, and the end result was a bit different.

Structural testing continues on two full-scale 787s as part of the ongoing certification. And the next tests for the Dreamliner wing will be done on a full-scale airplane.

As the song says, “take these broken wings and learn to fly …”

747-8 challenges

The audiences I speak to around the globe, as well as readers of this blog are familiar with something we’ve said many times. Big commercial airplanes are challenging, complicated work, especially new (or major derivative) airplane programs.

We’ve gotten another sobering reminder of that today with the announcement that we’re adjusting production and delivery schedules for the 747-8 Program.

The 747-8 Freighter, which is currently in assembly, will begin deliveries in the 3rd quarter of 2010. That’s a delay from the previous plan to deliver the new freighter late in 2009. The 747-8 Intercontinental, the passenger model, will deliver in the 2nd quarter of 2011, which will be somewhat later than the previous schedule to deliver in late 2010.

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A depiction of the 747-8 Intercontinental as it will appear in flight.

Disappointing? Yes. Acutely so for our customers, and everyone else with a stake in the success of the program. But it’s the right set of decisions. The work statement on the program has grown in order to improve some of the performance specs, and that’s led to some supply chain delays.

Much of that work-statement increase was a result of incorporating a more aerodynamically efficient wing design. Essentially, the airplane we’re building for our customers today has more new content than we originally planned. The program has also been affected by limited engineering resources within Boeing.

The impact of these issues became more pronounced as we moved through the 90% design-release milestone for the 747-8F and began production in August. Then came the strike, which began shortly after we initiated a review of the program.

We’ve worked closely with our suppliers to come up with the new adjusted production, flight test and delivery schedule (which also factors in the strike’s impact) and with customers to lessen the disruption to their plans. So now, as program chief Ross Bogue said today, it’s a matter of finishing the work to bring the airplanes to market.

But the bottom line is the new plan gives us and our suppliers time to address issues that have been affecting the program. I also want to emphasize that we remain committed to the 747-8. There’s strong demand and a good business case. The market has validated the 747-8 Freighter as the freighter of choice in the air cargo market, and we’ve secured 78 firm orders. The 747-8 Intercontinental, with 27 firm orders, continues to be well positioned in the large-airplane market as the only airplane covering the 400-500 seat market.

Now perhaps you’re wondering about the post-strike status of our other airplane programs as well. We’re assessing those schedules and will have updates down the road a bit.

ASPIRE to perfection

Last month I promised to return to talking a bit more about my recent trip to Asia, Australia and New Zealand. During those visits, something that always seemed to come up was the environment, and questions about what the aviation industry is doing to reduce its overall 2% carbon footprint.

Well the answer is our industry is doing a lot. Sustainable bio-fuels, composite technology, new aerodynamic designs and air traffic management advancements are just a few of the focus areas.

Just today, Boeing and Air New Zealand announced that they’re going to be conducting a sustainable biofuels test flight next month using a 747-400. That will be an important step toward certification and viability for biofuels.

Speaking of Air New Zealand, a recent 777-200ER flight from Auckland to San Francisco was another good step in the right direction. They named this flight “ASPIRE 1.” That stands for Asia and South Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions. But Air New Zealand simply calls it “the perfect flight.”

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An Air New Zealand 777-200ER flew “the perfect flight” on September 12.

The ASPIRE 1 flight focused on three areas where fuel and emissions could be reduced – an optimized departure in which the aircraft moved from the gate to the runway as quickly as possible; an optimized, collaborative oceanic trajectory in which the aircraft flew the most direct, fuel-efficient route possible; and an oceanic “Tailored Arrival” that produced a low-power, continuous descent approach in which the aircraft glided smoothly to the runway with minimal power.

What made the approach a Tailored Arrival is that controllers were able to look over the aircraft’s flight path from the top of descent to landing and “tailor” it to avoid conditions that might have slowed it down.

The Tailored Arrivals approach procedure was developed by Boeing. Air New Zealand’s chief pilot estimates that this approach saved ASPIRE 1 about 700 liters (182 gallons) of fuel on its approach into San Francisco.

Overall, ASPIRE 1 used 4% less fuel than it normally would – taking into account the entire flight from departure to landing. That’s a 1,200 gallon fuel savings, which by my calculations reduces carbon emissions by well over 10 tonnes.

Boeing Advanced Air Traffic Management as well as Air New Zealand, United Airlines, Qantas, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, the FAA and NASA have completed more than 600 Tailored Arrivals in limited operations of the concept at San Francisco International Airport since last December.

And all of this has led to some impressive results. Fuel savings for full Tailored Arrivals at SFO have averaged between 34% and 39% (on the portion of the flight from top of descent to landing, and depending on aircraft type). Carbon emissions have been reduced by more than 500,000 pounds, according to Boeing and FAA estimates.

The ASPIRE program’s second flight took place on October 22 – a Qantas A380 from Los Angeles to Melbourne. A third flight is coming up later this week - November 14 – a United Airlines 747 flight from Sydney to San Francisco.

You may have noticed that both Boeing and Airbus airplanes are involved. That’s right. ASPIRE and other initiatives can only truly make a difference when Boeing, Airbus, and the entire industry get together to reduce our impact on the environment.

President-elect

This was the first U.S. presidential election since we started blogging. So as we mark Tuesday night’s election results which will usher in a new administration in January, I wanted to share with you a couple of items to whet your appetite and discussion on what the changes in Washington might bring to the world of commercial aviation.

Bloomberg has a story about how President-elect Obama might impact issues such as unions, air traffic management, and foreign ownership of airlines. This AP item touches on a variety of topics, including the Federal Aviation Administration and modernization of technology.

And a USA Today blog and the Aviation Policy Blog lay out some pressing airline and transportation issues facing the next U.S. president.

I’d welcome your thoughts as well as we look ahead to 2009.

Future of freight

KUALA LUMPUR – In Malaysia at the moment, attending the 24th International Air Cargo Forum and Exhibition, where we’ve just released Boeing’s World Air Cargo Forecast for 2008/2009. I think you’ll find it of interest in light of the current economic environment.

Essentially, we’re seeing that air cargo traffic will continue to grow over the long term. Even though we’re experiencing near-term market weakness and worldwide economic uncertainty, the forecast is that world air cargo traffic will grow at a 5.8% annual rate over the next 20 years. Worldwide air freight traffic will triple.

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Speaking of freight, today Air China Cargo ordered three 747-400 Boeing Converted Freighters.

As I mentioned at the cargo forum here, we think that economic growth, freighter fleet renewal and moderating jet fuel prices will stimulate air cargo traffic over the long term. It’s always important to note that cargo is a driver of economic growth.

For a lot of interesting data, you can download and view the full World Air Cargo Forecast 2008/2009 (PDF).

Back to work

Over the weekend Boeing machinists ratified a new four-year contract. They started coming back to work last night, and will continue to return to factories and other facilities over the next week.

As Scott Carson said after the vote, “we’re looking forward to having our team back together” and getting back to delivering airplanes to our customers.

You can read more about the contract terms here.

 

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