Boeing on 777X Timeline: New Jets are Hard!
Speaking as a passenger, it is difficult to get too exercised by Dominic Gates’s story in the Seattle Times: “Boeing slows the pace on 777X.” No one wants to fly on a rush-job.
When Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner– former commercial airplanes head Jim Albaugh parachuted out of Boeing suddenly over the summer–says, ”When we get the airplane right, that’s when we’ll go forward,” it sounds like a lesson learned from 787 Dreamliner delays, often blamed on a too-market-driven timeline.
On the other hand, you do flash back to this February, when Boeing swapped the heads of the 787 and 777 programs. Larry Loftis, given lead on getting 787s out the hangar door, had increased the 777 production rate from five to seven per month in 2011, said Reuters at the time, adding: “In his new role, Fancher, who took over as head of the 787 program in December 2008, will help define the next variant of the 777 widebody.”
It is not that there’s no 777X developments to report; Aspire Aviation’s omnibus article from the end of July reported on a supersized wingspan of just over 233 feet, the possible elimination of an overwing exit door, and the competition to deliver a new engine.
But as Gates mentions, Boeing’s work on a re-engined 737 model and a 787-10 is taking up a great deal of “new jet” resources, when the company is very busy meeting existing orders. And Boeing, still just starting to enjoy the satisfaction of handing out 787s, can be in no great hurry to be the subject of more Boeing-loses-its-engineering-mojo stories, no matter how antsy Tim Clark gets.
It’s hard not to see a slowdown as prudence, as the 787 is also generating reams of data now that it has entered the workforce, and it’s clear that ongoing tweaks and fixes will keep coming for a while. Major improvements in the production process have brought the unit cost down by as much as 40 to 50 percent (Seattle producing the jets more efficiently than Charleston).
It’s the sort of thing that prompts “buy” buzz around the Lazy B, as airlines take over the work of promoting 787 advances to their customers: tinted windows, better air quality, quieter air conditioning and fans. The 787 is even slightly exceeding fuel efficiency predictions. All of this is good news, after an incredibly trying several years.