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December 20, 2010
Boeing mechanic Mary Kennedy loves to watch a new 777 airplane roll out of the factory.
"I get really excited because I know I worked on it," says the systems installation mechanic as she tightens a fastener in the aft fuselage of a future 777. "It truly is an art to be building these planes."
Kennedy will get many more chances to practice her art. Boeing announced plans to raise the 777 production rate again in 2013.
The increase, the second one announced in a year, is a response to strong demand from airlines that have picked the 777 family for its advanced technology, fuel-efficiency, and low operating costs.
"It's a fantastic aircraft for British Airways," said Keith Williams, chief financial officer for British Airways. "It suits our network, it suits our customer base."
Cathay Pacific Airways, which ordered six more 777s in September, said the long-range airplane has improved its business model. "It really enabled us to climb up strongly in the eyes of the travelling public," said John Slosar, chief operating officer for the Hong-Kong based carrier.
These airline executives have backed up their praise with orders. The 777 backlog is more than 250 jets, including passenger models and the freighter, the youngest member of the family.
"The 777 Freighter is another surprisingly good airplane," said Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airlines, the world's largest Boeing 777 operator. "I didn't think it would bring down the operating costs by as much as 30 percent. Now that is something."
"It's a fantastic aircraft .... It suits our network, it suits our customer base." Keith Williams, British Airways CFO
Brian Baird, the 777 program manager, says Boeing is listening to the chorus of customers by ramping up production. Currently, the program is producing 5 airplanes a month. In 2011, that will jump to 7 a month and then 8.3 a month in 2013. To facilitate the increases, the program will hire more mechanics, engineers and support staff.
Baird says Boeing didn't take the decision lightly and conducted a thorough analysis of the market and the supply chain.
"We looked at whether or not we have the capability and the capacity to do the rate increase without disrupting any other program and whether or not the market demand exists," said Baird. "In both cases, we have found out that is the case."
Mechanic Mary Kennedy says the 777 program is up to the challenge. She and the team have spent the last few years implementing Lean manufacturing and transitioning to a moving production line. So, in effect, they've been picking up the pace already.
"We're getting so efficient at building these airplanes," said Kennedy. "We know we have to get things done each shift so we can move onto the next airplane."
There are many more on the way.