Odds and Ends: Boeing Everett; SkyWest raises doubts about MRJ; Boeing and Charleston on 777X

Boeing’s Everett Footprint: With the news that Boeing will build 1.5m sf of space for a new 777X Final Assembly Line and wing production facility if the IAM 751 members ratify the new contract and Washington State ponies up on incentives, the obvious question is: what happens with the current Everett plant?

It had been assumed the 777X would be built in the current facility, integrating with and ultimately replacing the current 777 line; or starting off in the space now occupied by the 747-8, which is struggling to stay alive and which many–ourselves included–believe will die off with the advent of the 777-9.

Let’s consider this latest twist.

  • The 787 Line 1 is assumed to eventually reach a production rate of 7/mo, with Charleston also target for 7/mo, with the goal of the combined lines going to the announced rate of 14/mo by 2018/19.
  • The KC-46A tanker, which occupies half of one bay, goes to two a month in a few years, though it has capacity to go to three. The other half of this bay is currently occupied by the 787 surge line, but in theory this is supposed to go away once Charleston is up to rate 3. Boeing now says this will happen in the first quarter (it was supposed to by year end) but this may not be achieved by then, according to some. But one has to believe Charleston will be ready to rock by 2016, when the 777X is gearing up.
  • The current 777 line, now at 8.3/mo rate, is assumed to have a two year overlap from 777X EIS, or around 2022, when it’s been assumed the current generation 777 would be discontinued. But the 777-200LRF may live on, both in its current form and as a replacement for the KC-10 tanker. Although the USAF is reportedly looking at a 2040 procurement date for the KC-10 replacement, some believe this is too far out into the future and this date will be brought forward.
  • Then there is the 747-8 production space. It’s also assumed this airplane is living on borrowed time. The USAF says it wants to replace the Air Force One fleet in 2021, and this is a long time to keep this line alive. Boeing is counting on the cargo market to return in 2014 to spur demand of the 747-8F, but some believe main-deck freighters of this size will have a very tough time when cheap 747-400 conversions can be had for a fraction of the cost.
  • If space at the primary Everett plant does open up, what is there to fill it if not the 777X? Any number of potentials: the Y-1 737 replacement, closing the Renton factory in the process and splitting the Y-1 between Washington and South Carolina (or Texas, or some off-shore location). A maintenance, repair and overhaul operation: Boeing wants to dramatically increase this service business. Component production.

Over to Readers for your thoughts.

Meanwhile, The Puget Sound Business Journal has this long story on the expected use of robots in building the 777X.

SkyWest and MRJ: SkyWest Airlines of the USA, which has an order for 100 Mitsubishi MRJs, is getting impatient with the delays and could cancel its order, reports Flight Global. The carrier is one of only three customers for the MRJ90: TransStates Airlines and ANA are the others.

If SkyWest were to cancel, Embraer could have a good shot at picking up the orders. It has open production slots between now and 2017, when the delayed MRJ is now supposed to enter service, and 2018–when SkyWest is thought to be slated for its first MRJ under the delayed schedule–is also when Embraer’s new E-190 E2 is to enter service.

Bombardier could become a contestant again for its CRJ900, but terms demanded by SkyWest for the last round of competition (ultimately won by Embraer) were terms BBD didn’t want to meet.

This is one of those “stay tuned” moments.

Charleston ‘Not in the mix:’ The Charleston Post and Courier quotes a local official that Charleston wasn’t “in the mix” for the 777X site location. Nobody there had been contact by Boeing for incentives, the official is quoted as saying.

We might add the word, “yet.” There was a lot of buzz Charleston would be selected and The Wall Street Journal publicly reported it was under consideration.

We have no doubt that Charleston would have been contacted at some point. It could still be if the IAM 751 members reject the contract or Washington doesn’t step up and approve its package.

18 Comments on “Odds and Ends: Boeing Everett; SkyWest raises doubts about MRJ; Boeing and Charleston on 777X

  1. Maybe Boeing will build some white tail 748 for eventual conversion to Airforce 1 requirements or more likely they will convert used aircraft.
    Anything would do except the A380?

    • Andrew, the Secret Service would never never ever accept a used airplane of any kind for AF!. No way.

      Boeing has already built seven or eight “green” [no interior furnishings inside; painted white outside] 747-8I’s for insanely rich customers. Once delivered they vanish into mod centers for the next several years and then quietly emerge as ultra-posh VIP royal barges.


      A similar path could be followed for a future AF!. All that’s needed is a congressional appropriation [good luck with that in today’s gridlock] to build three green airplanes plus find a secure place to store them until $$ are found for completion. Area 51 maybe?

      In the meantime, Boeing could slowly close down the 747 line. Almost 50 years, something like 1,600 airplanes? Not too bad for a twin-aisle airliner.

      Plan B would be three new late-production 777-300ER’s, but again the Secret Service is the obstacle: they are firmly locked into “four engines good two engines bad”.

      • we know what you mean- but technically any plane POTUS is in is AF1 or in a chopper Marine One

        My guess that out of the last 10 747s built- probably two or three will be special for AF ” one” versions- to be used for overseas flights

        And about two or three 767 or 777 versions will be used for domestic AF1 versions

        And its not just the SS that demands such airplanes..

      • Don, of course you are correct. AF1 is a call sign, not an aircraft.

        The formal USAF designation for the two 747-200B’s known as AF1 are VC-25A. The Boeing designation is Model 747-2G4B. New ones could be 747-8G4, or something else, designated VC-25B or an entirely-new VC- designation.

        The 747-2G4B’s were built green in 1987. They then went into closed hangars at what was then Boeing’s very secure Wichita facility for completion. They emerged in August 1990. Boeing’s Wichita footprint has become much smaller since then.

        The 747’s are used for almost all trips, foreign and domestic. The exception is airports too small for a 747. Andrews AFB will then roll out a VIP 757 [C-32] or 737-700 [C-40B].

    • I figure the 747-8/f is good for 200. 140 more stretched over 10 years no problem. Shut down at the end of 2022.

  2. “Bombardier could become a contestant again for its CRJ900, but terms demanded by SkyWest for the last round of competition (ultimately won by Embraer) were terms BBD didn’t want to meet.”

    What were the terms BBD did not want to meet? I wonder if SkyWest would now also consider the CSeries?

  3. MRO in the near term, both as a commercially viable facility and as a sort of learning experience before setting up other sites, at which point it could transition again to Y-1 etc.

  4. its doubtful SC would be picked for 777X. They are still behind the learning curve for aircraft- and little in the area experience on aluminum bodies, etc

    BA simply cannot take the risk and cost of establishing a significant prodfuction line from scratch for 777x then there is shipping major length wing spars which wouild be avoidedf by building wings in SC ? give me a break- boeing is simply sandbagging IAM and Wash state

  5. Boeing has come to the conclusion that they will need the space for their wide body program. I went to the gas station this morning and gas was $3.13 per gallon. If gas goes to the $2 per gallon range the 787 and the 777X are going to be very hot sellers. An airline with a cost effective fleet will be able to fly more routes, more times per day and with a more efficient fleet. Lowering fulel prices will have the opposite effect on a fleet that is effcient when the prices are low. Point to point services at its highest level. 17″ seats will not be ny concern.

    • With all due respect that is totally backwards. The reason the efficient birds are selling is high fuel prices and those need to stay at current or higher.

      Remove the high fuel prices and the percentage fuel cost the operation drops and then Wingless get you close enough the lower cost 767 is a competitor for the 787. A330NEO would also be viable.

      The 777 may be an exception due to no true competitor and few for sale used. It would affect the 737s and A320s. Buy a used 777 and its the same thing.

      Note that Delta is doing just that, upgrading 767s, dropped (i.e deferred) 787 and they are using old MD (90s?) from Air Tran/Southwest to fill in that need because they are cheap and “reasonably” fuel efficient

      Low financing costs are a factor as well but the bigger driver is fuel.

      At one time they did not care on how efficient Aircraft were because fuel was so cheap that it was the smallest part of the expense and you don’t spend the most money dealing with the smallest benefit.

      • Inefficient engines cut into range/payload.
        ( from an airframe view fuel is nothing more than “consumable” payload if you think about it.)

  6. 747-400 Passenger to Freight conversions:

    In regards to cheap 747-4000 passenger conversions I keep seeing that, no one is doing it.

    There are a large surplus of those done already (and less viable all the time) and a lot of –400Fs that are for the picking.

    Whether or not there is enough 747-8F to keep the factory going is an open question, but the conversion of passengers types is not part of that factor.

    Operators will fly the 8F (which frees up something like 100 of the 400Fs to somebody) or they will fly the available 400Fs.

    Yes there are a few flying special charters that its cost plus, but there is going to be fewer of those all the time.

    That does not factor in the 777F or its possible conversion which make more sense.

    • Smokerr: Do you know – as I have not the faintest idea – how important in relative terms fuel efficiency is in pure freight aviation?

    • Smokerr, there are several programs to convert 747-400’s to “Special Freighters”. The two best known are STC kits from Boeing, installed in China [!!] or at a major mod facility, plus a program by Israel Aircraft Industries’ Bedek, done at their facility at Ben Gurion Airport.

      Either way the starting point is a 10 to 20 year-old 747-400. The result is a 747 special freighter better than a 747-200SF, but not as good as a factory-built 747-400F and not even close to a new 747-8F.

      The 747-400SF wing and fuselage structure is not the same as a -400F so it won’t have the -400F’s max structural payload. It is stuck with the extra weight of the elongated upper deck plus the belts of plugged windows, approx 10,000 lbs. The -400SF will not have a nose door, so it cannot load long cargo items.

  7. The second 787-9, N789FT (ZB002), is in the air right now on its first flight. Testing of the -9 seems to be progressing very well.

  8. If Boeing

    – is producing ~100 777s a yr
    – has a backlog of ~300ER/Fs
    – the 777X comes from 2020 earliest.

    I sea 3 year 777NG empty slots / a sales gab.

    The biggest 777 operators ordered A350s fleets that come off the line in that 2017-2020. Further 777 sales opportunities for sure, but not hundreds at great margins.

    Talking about 777NG/777X production overlap seems a virtual reality to me. And un-attarctive from a logistics standpoint. A low rate production keeping the line open until 2020 seems much more likely. Like the 747 before.

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