Chris Leiker joined Boeing in February after years of working on small avionics equipment such as gyroscopes for the flight deck. Now he is looking forward to putting together something much bigger—Boeing’s newest single-aisle airplane, the 737 MAX, which has started production and is scheduled to begin final assembly in Renton, Wash., later this year.
“When I got my training schedule it showed me on the 737 MAX and at the time I didn’t even know about the airplane,” Leiker said.
But that has changed during months of training that included classroom study, hands-on factory experience on the Next-Generation 737 and special skill drills in mock-ups that simulate the new-build areas of the 737 MAX. Now he not only knows the airplane; he knows he is part of something special.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of this,” Leiker said. “Building the first 737 MAX is a story that I’ll share with my grandkids one day.”
Leiker is one of several hundred mechanics who are mastering the skills required to build Boeing’s most advanced single-aisle airplane, which promises a 14 percent fuel savings compared to today’s Next-Generation 737. This improvement will come from the new LEAP-1B engine supplied by CFM International, but additional savings come from aerodynamic changes to the airplane itself, such as aft body reshaping, use of Advanced Technology winglets and new systems to support those changes.
These design innovations mean that, to be successful, even seasoned mechanics would need additional training.
“It took a lot of effort by the Operations team,” said Ed Cranford, 737 MAX Operations manager responsible for the training plan. “We broke down the changes to the airplane and identified all the certification and skills practice each mechanic would need.”
For example, fiber-optic data transmission has limited use on the Next-Generation 737, but the technology is needed for some new systems on the 737 MAX, such as supplying data to new large-screen flight-deck displays.
Creating teams with a mix of experience was another element in the training plan.
“When we started building the Next-Generation 737 we struggled at first,” Cranford said, “because the team was made up of mostly new employees.” As a result of that experience, 80 percent of the first group of 737 MAX mechanics have two or more years of experience on the Next-Generation 737, so they already understand the 737 production system—and the safety culture.
Read more in the August 2015 issue of Frontiers.