December 2008 Archives

The flight before Christmas

If you’re like me, you’ve got a zillion things to get done before the holidays. So here is where I take care of all the items that have been piling up in my blog stocking – waiting to be “wrapped.”

First, given the current state of the economy, it may not surprise you to learn that U.S. airlines are expecting a sizeable drop in passengers during the travel season that runs from now through the first week of January.

ATA is out with a forecast that says 43 million passengers will fly globally on U.S. airlines over the holiday. Sounds like a big number, but that’s 9% fewer than last year. However, don’t expect lots of empty seats. Airplanes are going to be at or near capacity because airlines have reduced the number of available seats – also by 9%.

On a lighter note, did you see where Randy’s Journal was featured on the Polish Aviation site? You know you’re doing something right during the year when they translate your stuff into Polish. And also into Dutch. “Zeer goed.”

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What a year: Randy’s Journal, even translated into Polski (Polish).

Next, a true story. The other day the air-circulating fans in the ceilings of our offices shut down and were out of service for an hour or so. In addition to keeping the air fresh in here at Boeing Commercial Airplanes offices, the system also happens to provide a comforting “white noise” for employees at work. Well let me tell you, when the system went on the fritz, it was eerily quiet. In fact, it made some folks a bit uncomfortable.

For example, you could hear people having telephone conversations clear across the floor, many cubicle rows over. The clicking and clacking of fingers on keyboards multiplied many times over was a strange sound indeed. You get the idea. Now, segue to an interesting couple of items that we came across at about the same time. Anyway, to make a long story short, the fans finally kicked back in, and we were able to get back to work. Sometimes silence is not golden.

Here’s a good one: maybe you caught this too in your local newspaper, but as a blogger these past 20 months or so, I had to chuckle with recognition when I saw this recent funny comic strip. Indeed maybe there’s something to be said for being the “unclever” guy on the Internet. I may have to strive for that goal in 2009!

As for my past year, where to begin (or conclude)? Unofficially, I traveled 208,000 statute miles in 2008. That’s more than 50,000 miles a quarter.

So here’s my gift to you, a few photos from my travels over the past 12 months:

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Springtime in Sydney. A panoramic view of the lovely harbor.

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Enjoying the view inside Beijing’s new airport terminal.

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After a long lunch with the media in Shanghai, our interpreter, Adele, finally gets a chance to eat.

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My favorite airplane in two separate displays at the International Air Cargo Forum in Malaysia.

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June in Beijing - pre Olympics.

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A rainy morning in Shanghai. Feels just like home.

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In Taipei: fish heads with chili. How many blogs can say they’ve featured fish heads twice?

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747s on display at Taipei’s airport.

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A picture perfect day in Auckland.

It’s been quite a year, with a lot of accomplishments as well as challenges. I’ll be taking off the next couple of weeks and I’ll be back the second week in January. At that time we’ll recap some 2008 results, and kick off the discussion about the critical issues we see in the 2009 business environment.

Until then, Prettige Kerstdagen en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! Or as they say in Polish, Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia i Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!

And with that, from snowed-in Seattle, I wish you all a good flight.

Rhapsody in blue

I wanted to follow up on a previous discussion, and talk a bit about a successful third ASPIRE flight we had in mid-November. This time it was a United Airlines 747-400, making United the first U.S. carrier to demonstrate how new-generation Air Traffic Management technologies can cut carbon emissions and save fuel on trans-Pacific flights.

ASPIRE stands for “Asia and South Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions.” As we mentioned earlier, Air New Zealand and then Qantas flew ASPIRE missions between the west coast of the U.S. and Australia/New Zealand recently as well.

For this latest mission, United flight 870 achieved a savings of 1,564 gallons (5,290 liters) of fuel - reducing carbon emissions by 32,656 pounds (14,812 kilograms) – on a trip from Sydney to San Francisco.

It was a pretty big deal - big enough to attract California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the “terminator” .. I mean, final destination .. of the flight. The Governor welcomed the airplane’s arrival at SFO – and complimented United and Boeing, the FAA and other organizations for working together to make this initiative possible. These flights are real pioneering efforts to both help the environment and to make airlines more cost efficient.

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Captain Rick Shay gives Governor Schwarzenegger a tutorial on Tailored Arrivals in the flight deck of a United 777 before the ASPIRE event at SFO. No word on whether the Governor’s “total recall” of the material will be tested later. (Photo courtesy: United Airlines)

The 747-400, piloted by United Captain Tom Spratt, used a number of fuel-saving and emissions reducing initiatives from gate to gate - including up-to-the-minute fuel data, priority takeoff clearance, and the opening of restricted airspace.

On approach to SFO, Captain Spratt and his crew used the Boeing-developed “Tailored Arrivals” procedure to make a smooth, continuous descent to touchdown. This takes advantage of data-link technologies to produce low-power, continuous descent approaches in which airplanes glide smoothly to runways. Controllers can look over airplane flight paths from the top of descent to landing and “tailor” them to avoid conditions that might slow them down.

Clearly, the more airlines and airports use Tailored Arrivals, the closer we get toward realizing the benefits of what’s called the NextGen System (Next-Generation Air Transportation System).

So far, Boeing and Air New Zealand, United, Qantas, Japan Airlines, ANA, Singapore Airlines, the FAA and NASA have completed more than 600 Tailored Arrivals in limited operations at San Francisco since December 2007 - saving an average of 2,100 pounds (952 kilograms) of fuel per flight for uninterrupted Tailored Arrivals and 660 pounds (299 kilograms) of fuel per flight for partial Tailored Arrivals. Over six months, that amounted to 343,000 pounds (155,582 kilograms) of fuel saved and a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) of 1.07 million pounds (771,107 kilograms).

If you’re like me, and you care at all about our environment, those savings sound like a symphony to the ears.

The path ahead

There’s not much more you can say in terms of just how frustrating it is to announce yet another delay. And it is deeply frustrating, once again, for the team, our partners, our suppliers, our customers, for the Boeing family. While we’ve made progress over the past year, the latest news is disappointing.

As you’ve no doubt read or heard, first flight for the 787 Dreamliner is now planned for the second quarter of 2009. First delivery is scheduled for the first quarter of 2010. Here’s the news release discussing our updated schedule.

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The Dreamliner - seen here in the static test structure. Despite delays, 2008 was a year of progress.

The changes largely reflect the delays due to the disruption caused by the factory closure during the IAM strike (essentially early September into November), as well as issues with fasteners in the initial Dreamliners. We’re still putting together the customer schedules for deliveries and we’ll be sharing that with them when they’re complete.

Despite the delay, structural testing continues, we’re finalizing engineering changes, and we’re completing systems tests. But the reality is we had to make this further schedule shift to account for the unexpected issues this fall.

Separately, we’ve also announced some organizational and executive leadership changes to sharpen our focus at Commercial Airplanes - not only on our supply chain but on all of our airplane programs. We’re establishing a Supply Chain Management and Operations organization. This is meant to provide improved oversight and alignment of the entire supplier network.

We’re also establishing a new single Airplane Programs organization to increase management focus and resources on both development programs and current programs. The new organization will oversee 787 and 747-8 development as well as drive execution on the 737, 767 and 777 programs.

And one final note today, we’ve updated our Orders and Deliveries page. A new customer has been added to the 787 family, bringing us to more than 900 orders since we launched the program.

At the crossroads of continents

I was recently in Europe to present Boeing’s 20-year forecast to a very diverse range of media - the newswire services in Paris, business journalists in Frankfurt and a large group of Turkish media in Istanbul.

The thing that surprised me most during this trip was not the questions I got about the forecast or about our predictions as to how or when the credit crunch will end. No, the most unusual takeaway for me was the stark difference in load factors on the six flights I hopped on during this trip.

Namely, in my entire week of travel throughout Europe, only one flight I took was completely full. It was a Turkish Airlines 737-800 from Frankfurt to Istanbul. For me, this reinforced in my mind the potential growth of the Turkish market. Turkey is a strong market now, we’ll see more growth in the future, and clearly this is a market crying out for more capacity.

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A full flight on Turkish Airlines and a big growth opportunity for commercial aviation in this market.

Turkey has traditionally been a key gateway between Europe and Asia, and its central location is going to continue to serve this market well in the years to come. Istanbul, with a population of some 11 million people, is a unique metropolitan area. There, you can actually walk between the European and Asia continents. I think it’s the only city in the world where that’s true.

There’s a lot of tourist traffic, but Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport can also handle a large portion of the international transit traffic among North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Turkey is committed to growth in air travel with an understanding of the benefits that it will bring both economically and socially. Their economic growth is predicted to continue at 2-and-a-half times that of their European neighbors.

Istanbul’s airport also has another advantage over other European hubs. Its location between key destinations allows for 24-hour operation - perfect for long haul transit. With plans to expand the current airport infrastructure and talk of potentially closer ties with Europe, Turkey could be poised to become one of the largest growth markets for aviation in the region.

Ground game

There’s a great television program recently produced and airing in re-broadcasts from time to time that you might want to check out. It focuses on the amazing skill of a group of Boeing employees known as the Airplane On Ground (AOG) Operations team.

These are the people who do whatever it takes to keep airplanes flying around the world – or more to the point, get them off the ground and back up in the air. An airplane “on ground” isn’t making any revenue. So it’s vital to get it back into service as quickly (and safely) as humanly possible.

The TV program is the work of the National Geographic Channel, a U.S. based cable network, which is also seen in many countries around the world. It’s part of a series called “World’s Toughest Fixes.” Check out their Web site for the next time you can see the episode titled “Boeing 767.”

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A National Geographic TV crew was on hand for an AOG operation involving a 767-300 that inadvertently backed into a blast fence. (Photo courtesy of Olivier Corneloup)

The incident pictured above took place on Christmas Eve last year at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport. The airplane sustained some major damage to the tail section. The National Geographic program’s producers chronicled the entire project from start to finish. You can check out some clips from the program here.

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From incident to finished product, some views of a Boeing AOG “tough fix” at Charles de Gaulle Airport, working to get a 767-300 back off the ground.

Among other things, the 767’s vertical fin and the entire aft section had to be removed so crews could get to the damaged pressure dome and install a new one. Then the whole section had to be put back to together again. Working 12-hours shifts, a team of 37 Boeing AOG specialists completed the repair in 20 days!

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The AOG team on the scene in Paris.

This particular operation was thoroughly documented. Check out a very detailed article in Air and Space, which also has a lot of background about Boeing’s AOG team and its everyday unique challenges. Boeing’s Frontiers magazine also gives AOG some in-depth coverage.

I love this one quote from the piece: “There’s nothing else like fixing a broken airplane, giving it back to the customer and watching it fly away. We can fix just about anything.”

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“We can fix just about anything.”

As is well pointed out in all the stories, the AOG team is on call 24 hours a day, and they seem to have an almost magic way of doing whatever it takes anywhere on the globe to transform a repair site into a temporary Boeing factory to restore a disabled airplane to flight-worthy shape.

Case in point, in 1988 a 747 ran off the runway in New Delhi and plowed through 1,000 yards of thick mud before coming to a stop. As you can imagine, most of the airplane needed repair or replacement. It took more than 100 AOG team members and three-months of effort to get the job done. At one point they even placed a huge tent over the airplane to shield the operation from tropical downpours, not to mention bugs, heat and .. you get the idea.

All in a day’s (or three months’) work for AOG, I suppose.

Finally, take a look at a Boeing video we made around the Paris AOG operation. It’s a fun variation on the PTQ, or Put Together Quickly videos we sometimes produce. This one is called “Put Back Together Quickly.”

As a (very) frequent traveler, I for one am glad to know this team is out there when we need them. Makes you realize that to keep our airplanes flying, it sometimes takes a good ground game!

New contract

You’ve most likely heard the positive news today. We have a new four-year contract with SPEEA-represented professional and technical employees.

They ratified the contracts and announced the results last night. The agreement covers about 21,000 employees.

As was the case with the earlier IAM negotiations, Boeing’s goal, as our lead negotiator Doug Kight said, was to reach agreements on contracts “that reward our employees for their contributions to our success while enabling the company to sustain its success in an increasingly tough economy.”

That last part is key. This is indeed a tough time, not only for our industry, but for the entire global economy.

We’ve weathered tough storms in the past, and this one is up there with the most challenging of times. It’s not going to be easy, but now we can put our entire focus forward.

 

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