Better by design

Gary May

For engineers like Gary May, the chance to help influence and shape the design of a new airplane model like Boeing’s widebody 777X is an opportunity that doesn’t happen very often.

“As a new airplane, the 777X has more opportunities for change, new technology and new environmental thinking, which makes it a special experience,” said May, leader of the Design for Environment program.

“We consider environmental performance in the design and build process for every aircraft and new technology, and the 777X program is including environmental and workplace safety planning into the design as early as possible.”

Design for Environment is a systematic design approach that minimizes a product’s environmental footprint and meets quality, cost and performance requirements set by the customer and Boeing. It reduces a product’s environmental impacts over its life cycle, from raw materials and manufacturing to in-service operation to the end of service.

May said environmental requirements and criteria are now included in the standard “gated” development process for the 777X. “Gated” refers to a disciplined process with steps and criteria for moving forward. It ensures that the program gains a sufficient level of maturity before it proceeds to key milestones, such as design completion, production and entry into service.

The strategy for getting environmental thinking into the aircraft’s design is to provide engineers with the expertise and resources
to make smart choices, May said. “We don’t expect every engineer to be an environmental expert. We need them to be aware their decisions affect the environment,” he said.

Design for Environment principles consider several environmental performance measures: global emissions, energy, sustainable materials, community noise, local emissions and water.

“By building more efficient aircraft and reducing fuel use, we cut greenhouse gas emissions in several ways and save significant amounts of water,” said May.

May said the goal is to help educate the engineering workforce to think with a broader environmental life cycle mindset. Specific improvements from design decisions could include:

  • Reducing drag from passenger windows, thus boosting efficiency and saving fuel.
  • Giving customers the means to identify the optimal amount of onboard potable water needed, thus reducing unnecessary water weight and saving fuel.

Although substantial design resources are focused on the 777X and other in-development aircraft, such as the 737 MAX, May said environmental planning and strategy never end. “We want our products and operations and services to be the best they can be. We’re always looking forward to the next new airplane,” May said.

“It’s how Boeing aircraft continue to set the standard for environmental performance.”