Boeing defends 777X aluminum fuselage, reads the headline from Bloomberg News, reporting from the Paris Air Show.
During the pre-Paris Air Show media briefings by Boeing, we asked Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of aircraft development, why Boeing didn’t go with an all-new fuselage. His answer:
“Our job is to harvest the investments in technology we’ve made over the last 10 years and translate those into value for our customers and value for Boeing,” said. The 787 required a new fuselage cross section compared with the 767, so Boeing had to go with all new tooling anyway and the composite fuselage was the result. The 777 fuselage cross-section remains unchanged, so the decision was made to harvest the hard-won 787 technology but retain a metal fuselage.
Undecided is whether the fuselage will be traditional metal alloys or new alloys.
The same is true in deciding to re-engine the 737 rather than proceeding with a new design.
“It’s really about harvesting those technology investments [from the 787], Fancher said. “The time it would take to do a new small airplane in the single aisle market vs the time it would take to bring to market that is very competitive against our adversary, it’s a very cost-effective decision to do a derivative.
“On the wide body side of the equation, we made big investments and pushed technology forward on the 787. We’ve made huge investments in technology. It was a long, hard road. But the investments paid off. We need to continue to harvest those investments and apply them going forward in the most cost effective way we can. Going forward, offering derivative airplanes that are able to offer 20% more fuel efficiency to the market place by harvesting the technology investments we’ve made today, that sounds like a great business plan to me and that’s why we’re doing derivatives. It’s about value to the market place in the most cost effective way.”
Elizabeth Lund, VP and GM of the 777 program, and Jason Clark, director of manufacturing, explained that continuing to upgrade the current 777 is key for an airplane that is the “flagship” for many airlines.
“The Triple 7 is a huge part of the Boeing franchise. We are deeply committed to it,” Lund said. “The 777 has a departure reliability of 99.4%, the highest of any twin-aisle aircraft today. There are many more investments you can’t see. You can’t see the things that have been done. In the last couple of years we’ve added international connectivity to the airplane. We’ve added the antennas and capabilities so the flying public can stay connected over the oceans all the time and not just over land.
“We’ve improved our navigation links, which allows real-time changes to be uploaded to the airplane to change flight plans through the system instead of verbal conversations as it has been done through the years.”
Lund said the 777-300ER is qualified to operate with 330 minute ETOPS. Only one airline, Air New Zealand, is flying 330 minute ETOPS.
Continuous improvements have reduced the empty weight of the airplane today by 1,000 pounds compared with three years ago.
“We’ve reduced our maintenance costs. We’ve offered a full sweep of service and maintenance capabilities, including things like airplane health monitoring on the airplane as well,” Lund said. “We invest for three primary reasons. One is to reduce the cost of the airplane. Two is to meet the needs of our customers. We spend a lot of time with our customers understanding the market, doing technology development so that we understand the future market needs. The third area is to do some investment where it makes sense is that if there are technologies or applications that we can implement early to prove out for the Triple 7X as we continue to move into that.”
Clark said Lean manufacturing has improved efficiencies and reduced costs.
“Going to moving line and Lean reduced parts shortages by 57% on 777 line. Our quality continues to improve year end and year out. It gets down to improved productivity,” he said. “If we are going to have the rate flexibility that the market demands of us, we were going to have to look at the production system differently.”
Competitive advantage is no longer just about the platform, Clark said. It’s about the entire supply chain and production system.
“Lean is the basis of our production methods. When you look at some of the investments we are starting to make it’s about taking it to the next level. This isn’t a conversation for doing it for automation or technology just for technology’s sake. It’s really about the right balance. It’s also about the ability to allow the customer to differentiate the product. We are looking at elements that allow us to provide the differentiation.”