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26 August 2005

Leading by a nose

Just in case you didn't hear about it yesterday, we had another major milestone in the development of the 787 Dreamliner.

In Wichita, Kansas, Boeing and our 787 partner, Spirit AeroSystems, unveiled the first all-composite "nose" section for the airplane.

787 Dreamliner nose section photo

This one-piece nose section for the 787 unveiled yesterday in Wichita measures about 19 feet in diameter and 24 feet in length.

You can see in the photograph of this full-scale section that it retains the sleek look some have compared with a bullet train. This is an advanced and highly contoured piece of the airplane. And what it does is demonstrate the capabilities of the facility that will actually be manufacturing this section of the Dreamliner.

The 787 will take shape over the next couple of years, going into flight testing in 2007. The first Dreamliners will be in commercial service in 2008.

But for now, this is a red-letter occasion for our employees, and in particular, our partners at Spirit, who, at facilities in Kansas and Oklahoma, will design and build the forward section, pylons, and fixed and moveable wing components for the 787.

Seeing progress like this really makes you look forward to the day when you first see this new airplane, maybe while pressing your own nose against the window of your airport gate to catch a glimpse.

24 August 2005

Freight that flies

Last week one of the world's largest package delivery companies ordered eight 747-400 freighters. It's a good reminder of the fantastic staying power of the 747. But it's also something much more.

You don't have to go any further than UPS' own announcement to see what that is. As UPS puts it, the 747 order is part of its "on-going effort to accommodate strong international volume growth."

The air cargo business is booming. In the second quarter of 2005, UPS reports that its export volume grew more than 18%, and that Asia export volume gained nearly 40%, with China alone rising 99%.

Which gives me a great opening to talk about Boeing's 20-year cargo forecast.

At the Paris Air Show this year, we announced that our forecast for air cargo calls for a 6.2% annual growth rate over the next 20 years. What this means in terms of airplanes is that the world freighter fleet will more than double from 1,760 to 3530 airplanes by the year 2024!

Boeing freighter chart image

When you look at the freighter world, 2004 vs. 2024, you see that the freighter fleet will double, and that widebody freighters will supply more than 60% of the additions.

To accommodate all that growth and the replacement of older freighters over the years, we think the industry will need about 2,900 additional freighter airplanes - taking into account about 1,100 airplane retirements.

About three-quarters of those freighter additions will come from modified passenger and "combi" airplanes. Half of these conversions will be widebody conversions.

And the remainder of the freighters entering the fleet over the next 20 years will be new production freighters. We figure that to be a little over 720 airplanes, worth about $155 billion in today's U.S. dollars.

Note that widebody freighters will increase their numbers significantly over the next 20 years, from today's 47% of the fleet, to about 64% of the fleet in 2024. This shift toward widebodies will result in a fleet-wide increase in average freighter payload.

Now, something else I want to point out is that more than 90% of the world's freighter capacity was built by Boeing. We're the leader in the growing air cargo market because we offer a full freighter family. The other guys can't compete with that.

Our full line of new and modified freighters starts with 20-tonne-capacity freighters in the 737 class up to our latest offering, the 134-tonne 747 Advanced Freighter. The 747 Advanced is a stretched 747 powered by 787 engines. Cargolux and other freight carriers have continued to express interest in this new model. We expect to make a decision on launching the Advanced this year.

It's a brave new air cargo world we're entering - a far cry from when I was just starting out in this business. My very first job at Boeing was as an analyst in the Air Cargo Market Development group. At the time we were helping airlines develop their cargo markets in the early days of the 747 program. In fact, I began working at Boeing shortly after the very first 747 freighters entered service.

I look back now on the development of air freight over the last 30 years and can hardly believe that today there are nearly 300 747 freighters, both new and converted, out flying.

In the 1970s, it was kind of a tough sell. "You'll see," we'd say. "One day our freighters will fill the skies!"

Nobody needs convincing of that today. It's a fact.

18 August 2005

The bottom line

Something everyone seems to want to talk about when they talk about flying is the comfort, or lack of it, in their seating.

I think the 787 will be a fine addition to the Boeing family, but what will it do in terms of seats for the airplane? Also, for airline comfort, seating is more important than how high the ceiling is or isn’t, so, what will the 787 offer to ensure that the passengers are comfortable?

Michael C.
Long Beach, California

The answer is, the Dreamliner will offer a lot in that department. One of the things that sets the 787 apart is the research we did on passenger comfort.  For instance, what we found out is that the dimension that most correlates to comfort is the width of the airplane at seated eye-height. In other words, it’s very important to you how much room you perceive around you when you’re seated on an airplane. So we created a width that offers the best seated eye-height available.

Now, we agree that the seats themselves are also important. But something a lot of people don’t realize is that we don’t make the seats. Nor do we make the decision about the distance (pitch) between you and the seat in front of you. Those are decisions the airlines make.

However, in developing the 787, we’ve worked very closely with seat manufacturers. And we’ve established seat comfort standards that are now influencing the way seat manufacturers build seats. Because of this, you’ll begin to see airplane seats that are constructed in a way to give you more inches in front of you.

787 Dreamliner Seats image

A close-up look at the new pitch-friendly economy class seats on display in the 787 mockup facility outside Seattle.

How is that done? Well, a typical airplane seat has a lot of padding. That padding may look comfy, but what it does more than anything is take up space. So, we’ve found that excess padding can be removed without sacrificing your comfort. And by maintaining proper support and adjusting seat construction so the seat parts don’t get in the way, inches of space can be “added” in front of each passenger without actually increasing pitch!

And we’re not stopping with seats. We’re making the sidewalls inside the 787 more vertical (so window seat passengers don’t feel hemmed in), and enhancing the lighting in the cabin to create a sense of spaciousness and freedom. 

But to get back to the original comment: we think the 787 will be a great airplane with some great seats to set your buns in. And on those long-haul flights, that really is the “bottom” line.

10 August 2005

Blogging the stratosphere

I would not be true to my blogging self if I went too long without a tip of the hat to the folks at Connexion by Boeing. Last month Connexion hosted bloggers and reporters for a demonstration of high-speed in-flight Internet technology.

From what I've read, the demo flight on July 19 was a success with bloggers. It took place on a Boeing 737-400 known as "Connexion One." This custom-outfitted airplane has an onboard server and router. The exterior has antennas for real-time satellite transmission and reception.

Connexion One over Seattle photo

Connexion One soars past the Seattle Space Needle, with Lake Union just beyond, and the Cascade Mountains on the horizon.

The result is the ability for broadband communication while flying. When Boeing first launched Connexion One, some called it a flying laboratory. Last month, the lab subjects were bloggers.

We flew them from Boeing Field in Seattle all the way to Walla Walla, Washington. Not a huge distance, but far enough for the bloggers and journalists to realize they'd traveled to a new world. Bloggers were able to log on and post to their blogs from 30,000 feet!

Some examples are here and here. Along with the posts, the bloggers took some pretty cool photos during the flight and uploaded those to the Web as well.

The best quote I saw came from a blogger named Molly. "I'm blogging from the sky!" she posted to her site. "The world, my dear readers, is changing. It's the most exciting time to be alive."

Some airlines around the world are already featuring Connexion service on their flights. But as far as we know, this was the first airborne blogging summit.

08 August 2005

Goodnight, Peter

When I last wrote about ABC News anchor Peter Jennings back in April, we were all hopeful that he would win his battle with lung cancer. Sadly, it was not to be.

Jennings died last night at his home in New York. He was only 67 years old.

Peter Jennings visited Seattle in February during, I believe, his last on-the-road week of broadcasts. I had the pleasure, along with Carolyn Corvi, our Vice President of Airplane production, to chat with Peter and tour our 737 final assembly building in Renton together.

Peter Jennings outside the Renton plant photo

Carolyn and I, meeting Peter Jennings outside the Renton plant on a bright, sunny day in February.

I read that Peter was known as a stickler for details. And that showed during his visit to Renton. This was a guy who'd been all around the world and had covered every major news story over a period of five decades. And you'd think someone with that kind of life would be a bit jaded. But when we met him he seemed just as absorbed and insatiably curious as if it was his very first assignment.

In the plant, he didn't just stand back and let a producer or cameraman do the work. Peter asked a ton of questions and stuck his head inside the airplanes being assembled to get a first-hand look.

Now, as I've mentioned before, I had my own fight with cancer. It's not easy, and I was fortunate. As ABC News President David Westin said of Peter today: "He knew that it was an uphill struggle. But he faced it with realism, courage, and a firm hope that he would be one of the fortunate ones. In the end, he was not."

And now, I send my thoughts and prayers to Peter's family, friends and colleagues. I'm sure glad we got to know him, if briefly. I know I'm just one of many who will remember him for a long time to come.

03 August 2005

Plane truth

A pretty good article this week in the King County Journal, a Seattle-area newspaper, points out that orders in 2005 for 737s alone are already far more than Boeing received in total orders of all airplane models in all of last year.

It's about all you need to know to understand that the Renton, Washington assembled 737 is going to be sticking around for a while. This airplane is the world's best-seller. Maybe you saw Air Transport World's recent ranking of the most profitable low-cost carriers in the world. The top four fly 737s exclusively. The top two - Southwest Airlines and Ryanair - had a combined operating profit of nearly $1 billion last year!

I'm telling you all this by way of prefacing the fact that there's been a lot of speculation - some of it coming from our competition - that a replacement single-aisle Boeing airplane is just around the corner. Don't believe it.

I plan to take up this subject in further detail in a later blog entry. But suffice it to say, the truth is that new 737s will be taking off from Renton for some time to come.