June 2006 
Volume 05, Issue 2  
Commercial Airplanes

Ready to carry the load

747-400 Converted Freighter team set to meet heavy demand


Ready to carry the loadLast December, launch customer Cathay Pacific Airways took delivery of the first Boeing 747-400 passenger airplane to be converted to a freighter as part of the 747-400 Boeing Converted Freighter program.

Now, thanks to big demand, the BCF program is ramping up. The program has announced 43 firm orders and 23 options, and eight conversions are scheduled for 2006. That demand means the team has a lot of work on its plate—but it's a task the team is ready to tackle.

"It's going to be a challenge. But everybody is pulling together, and we've already accomplished a lot together," said Rich Dustman, BCF chief engineer, about the schedule ahead. "It's going to be spectacular."

The 747-400BCF's success is in large part because the burgeoning economies of Asia need more cargo capacity. BCF allows airlines to enhance the value of their older 747-400s by converting them to freighters to add that capacity. This gives Boeing not only the revenue from conversions but an opportunity to sell those airline customers new 777s and 787s for passenger use.

Converting a 747-400 is a big job. The interior is stripped out, floor beams are removed and replaced with beams that can take more weight, a hole is cut into the side of the plane and a large cargo loading door installed. These and other modifications require extensive changes to flight control cables and airplane systems. The airplane must also meet new safety standards and be recertified to carry heavier payloads.

Just as the demand for converted freighters has been driven by an increasingly global economy, the conversion operation is global in scope. It takes place in several locations around the world.

There are two approaches to the conversion. In some cases Boeing is providing customers with freighter kits, including engineering service bulletins, parts and on-site support. The airline provides the "touch" labor. Two modification sites are now coming online in Korea and Singapore. Other modifications will be performed at the Boeing joint venture Taikoo (Xiamen) Aircraft Engineering site, known as TAECO, in Xiamen, China, with Boeing retaining full reponsibility, from marketing and sales through redelivery and continuing into service.

There are also three primary engineering sites—in the Puget Sound region of Washington State, in Long Beach, Calif., and at the Boeing Moscow Design Center—as well as liaison engineers at modification sites.

Marco Cavazzoni, director of the 747-400 BCF program, said the program was based on the Vision 2016 commitment to lean, global, large-scale systems integration, and on the Commercial Airplanes strategy to promote point-to-point travel in newer 777s and 787s.

"The BCF operational model enables us to offer a viable new product to the industry, while providing additional multibillion-dollar industrial activity in both the United States and Asia," he said. "This is industrial activity that we would not have in the United States without leveraging the power of the Boeing enterprise worldwide."

The key to managing the ramp-up is seamless integration of all these sites, Cavazzoni said. The program has a rigorous line-of-sight program management process to review performance of these groups. That lets the team establish a global production-system backbone providing real-time technical, program-management and status data, he said.

The worldwide team also meets frequently and on a regular schedule. "At the end of the day in Puget Sound, when Asia wakes up we have telecons [teleconferences] with conversion sites, and at the beginning of our day we have telecons with Moscow," Cavazzoni said. "If, for example, a problem is generated in Asia we get all of our [next] day to work it. While we sleep, they work. There's a tremendous amount of power in that model."


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