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30 May 2006

Winging it

I guess you just can't keep a good airplane down. Or at least the wings. And maybe other parts.

For instance, I see that a woman in California is building a house out of parts of a 747 jumbo jet. The story I read on BBC News said the woman wanted her house in Malibu to have "curves and be eco-friendly." So her architect naturally thought, 747!

Great story. When you click on the link above you can see the airplane, and how the architect plans to turn it into a house. According to the piece, the 747's wing will be used for the roof, and the 747's upper deck will serve as a loft!

More on the 747 in a moment.

There was also the news earlier this month that a hotel right up the road from here, in Everett, Washington, will be graced with the wing of a former 727 airplane.

Boeing 727 wing Photo: Francis Zera/Zeraphoto.com

The 727 wing arrives at its new home by truck after a journey from Paine Field.
Photo: Francis Zera/Zeraphoto.com

The 8,000 pound, 64-foot long wing apparently had to be escorted along two-and-a-half miles of streets to travel from Paine Field to a hotel being remodeled.

The wing will serve as the roof of the "porte-cochere" entryway into the hotel. (Yes, I had to look that up, too!)

Boeing 727 wing Photo: Francis Zera/Zeraphoto.com

Wing aloft and ready to be installed as part of the hotel's entryway.
Photo: Francis Zera/Zeraphoto.com

In case you're interested, the recently-retired 727 previously flew the Vancouver Canucks hockey team!

I'm told that the hotel bought the 727 wing as part of an expansion. The hotel, which is close to a lot of aviation activity such as the Future of Flight center, will now have an airplanes theme and a new name: Best Western "Navigator Inn & Suites."

I guess they're hoping that with the improvements business there will really take off.

Now, more about the 747. You might want to take a look at a pretty good article featuring an update on the new 747-8 Intercontinental. Check out the recent report by Geoff Thomas.

24 May 2006

California dreamin'

Something very significant took place yesterday, for both the Boeing Company and the commercial aviation industry. In Long Beach, California, AirTran Airways and Midwest Airlines took delivery of the very last Boeing 717s.

The 717 program produced 156 airplanes, and along the way pioneered breakthrough business and manufacturing processes.

So, needless to say, this week marks the end of a great airplane program. But it also closes the era of commercial passenger airplanes associated with the legendary Donald Douglas, dating back to the 1920s. What aviation enthusiast has not been awed by the magnitude of Douglas' influence, and his contributions to the history of flight? Today's 717s are part of that legacy, based on the blueprint of the highly successful Douglas DC-9.

Alan Mulally, Joe Leonard and Tim Hoeksema photo

At ceremonies yesterday in Long Beach, Pat McKenna, vice president and general manager of the 717 program, addressed the crowd beneath a replica of the "Fly DC Jets" sign. Other speakers included (left to right) Jim Phillips, retired vice president and general manager of the 717 program; Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes; Joe Leonard, chairman and CEO of AirTran Airways; and Tim Hoeksema, chairman, president and CEO of Midwest Airlines.

I know that the employees who are part of the Long Beach heritage have every reason to be extremely proud. But understandably it's also a sad occasion for Southern California, and for the employees who've worked on the Douglas and McDonnell Douglas-legacy aircraft in Long Beach.

For sure, the Douglas spirit is part of that region's DNA, just as Boeing's is to the Pacific Northwest. And with that spirit there's a pride that comes from every challenge and success. The challenges were many, including two mergers in 30 years: Douglas with the McDonnell Aircraft Company in 1967, and McDonnell Douglas with Boeing in 1997.

Tops among the successes would be the nearly 3,000 Long Beach-built jets and more than 15,000 airplanes of all types produced at the site since 1941. During World War II, Long Beach produced almost 10,000 airplanes for allied forces, including more than 4,000 C-47s - the military version of the DC-3. And what a lot of people may not know is that Douglas also produced 3,000 B-17s in a unique wartime partnership with Boeing.

Boeing employees and the final 717 photo

Last month, Boeing employees gathered for this remarkable photo in front of the last 717. This final Douglas-heritage airplane was the 15,599th airplane built in the Long Beach Factory.

That spirit of cooperation continues today as Boeing Commercial Airplanes moves forward. The Boeing Production System is an industry benchmark in large part because of the "Lean" manufacturing and employee involvement practices we pioneered on the 717 program. Thanks to Long Beach, we've also learned a lot about engaging and managing the global supply chain.

The transformation of the 737 and other programs to moving production lines also says a lot about the Long Beach influence throughout the company. And frankly, that's not going away. Walk into any Boeing facility in the Puget Sound area today, and it doesn't take long to find someone who's also worked in Long Beach.

I wasn't able to attend the events in Southern California this week, but I can certainly appreciate the sentiments of the thousands of employees and retirees on hand to send off the Boeing 717. For me in particular, I recall taking part in a memorable demo flight on a 717 over Puget Sound around the time of the 1997 merger, when the MD-95 first became the 717.

Fly DC Jets sign and MD-80s and MD-90s assembly photo

This shot from the mid-1990s shows the historic "Fly DC Jets" sign overhead as MD-80s and MD-90s are being assembled on the same production line.

The 717 is a very efficient airplane, and its 5-abreast seating is very popular with passengers. The airplane has excellent reliability, economics and performance. But unfortunately the 100-seat market never really developed as quickly as we thought it would. No doubt it was a great competitor to the airplanes it was up against such as the A318. And I think eventually there will be a keen market for 100-seat airplanes.

In the meantime, let this week's events serve as a great tribute to the Douglas legacy. The Long Beach factory with its legendary sign, "Fly DC Jets," will live on forever in the history of commercial aviation, and in its lasting impact on the Boeing of today and the future.

17 May 2006

Meet me in St. Louis

One of the things I talk about a lot is airplane performance. But for a little change of pace I'd like to talk a bit about business performance.

And I mean talk. I've nearly talked myself hoarse these past couple of days responding to questions about what Airbus might do with their A340 and A350 programs.

All this talk has been going on at Boeing's annual conference for Wall Street analysts and institutional investors this week. These folks are an important constituency. And their opinions and investment decisions certainly influence Boeing's reputation, as well as our ability - and the ability of the aviation industry - to attract funding.

Alan Mulally speaking at the 2006 investor conference photo

Here's BCA's President and CEO Alan Mulally explaining Boeing's strategy of "profitable growth for all" this week at the annual investor conference.

Although I meet with analysts and investors several times a year, as do others at Boeing, those sessions usually focus on just a slice of our company. But the conference this week in St. Louis allowed us to give a comprehensive overview of the strategies driving all our businesses to market-leading positions. And attendees got to meet with dozens of Boeing's senior leaders, including Chairman and Chief Executive Jim McNerney.

Our messages are clear, and our position is impressive considering what things looked like after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

  • Today Boeing is well positioned in healthy markets
  • We're executing our plans
  • We're expecting significant earnings and revenue growth this year and next driven by the exceptional demand for our commercial airplanes

Not surprisingly, as I mentioned, I found myself engaged this week in a fair amount of discussion about what Airbus might do to make the A340 and A350 families competitive with the 777 and 787. And as I've said for a number of years now, we expect the competition to respond aggressively. Just as soon as they figure out how they can - given their heavy commitment of resources to the A380 family and the A400M project.

Of course, Wall Street continues to keep a close eye on Boeing's competitive position and on the progress of the 787 program. But what really seemed to worry the attendees - and what we're committed to avoiding - is a repeat of the late 1990s.

Back then, BCA had so many production problems - as we attempted an extremely aggressive ramp-up - that we actually had to stop building airplanes for a number of weeks to straighten everything out. Even now, thinking about it makes me shudder.

We're confident that's not going to happen this time. We put in place several production up-ticks last year. And the results look good. Our supplier base is stronger and more integrated. We've had several years of improving through "Lean" processes. And the number of deliveries is increasing much more gradually than it did back then. We're always working this because we know what can happen if we take our eye off the ball.

So, I think almost everybody left the conference with a sense that Boeing has the right strategy, excellent leadership, and a focus on executing our plans.

We're facing challenges, and there will be bumps in the road. But it seems to me that we're giving Wall Street and others reason to believe in The Boeing Company.

10 May 2006

Weight another minute

After our blog the other day, "Weight a minute," about the 747-8F and the A380F, a bunch of you weighed in yourselves. As in, wait a minute Randy, you conveniently neglected to mention that the A380F has more range!

And a number of people sent in comments implying that this range difference somehow makes up for the added 74 tonnes of operating empty weight (OEW) on the A380 freighter. For example:

Let's redo the math with the range and you will see that yours is payload limited at 5000nm and the A380F flies 1500nm farther. Always funny to read your propaganda!

And this one:

Your assessment of the 747-800F vs. the A380F is flawed. The A380 can fly MUCH further - 1400 nautical miles (or 25%) more range than the 747-800F so that makes up for the "dead weight" you speak of. Must do better!

Well, we certainly did not leave out the range part of the story for "propaganda" value, and we don't deny that the A380F has more range. Yes, Airbus claims the A380F will fly 5,600 nautical miles at full payload, or about 1,100 nmi (not 1,400 or 1,500) more than the 747-8F. It's just that when you get right down to it, this makes little difference in terms of efficiency. The A380 still makes a very inefficient freighter.

Regardless, this was yet another lively topic on aviation forums such as Airliners.net where "Tony" got things started, then quipped, "I'll give this to Randy: he definitely knows how to pull our strings! I'm sure he's reading all this with a big wide smile on his face."

So, let's pull some more strings, and as the one comment above suggests, do some more math. First, let's acknowledge that the 747-8F can fly 5,600 nmi too, but would then be limited to about 114 tonnes of revenue payload, or about an 85% load factor.

Boeing 747 freighter image

The 747-8 Freighter is the only new freighter that can be loaded "straight in" through its unique nose cargo door. This can reduce loading and unloading times significantly, and makes it possible to load long and awkwardly shaped cargo, which can be an important source of premium revenue.

Compared at that range, the A380F could potentially have 27 more tonnes of revenue payload than the 747-8, but again, for 74 tonnes more structural weight. In other words, 24% more potential revenue on 5,600 nmi range flights for 42% more structural weight! Weight that has to be carried on every A380F flight, long or short!

This is not a good trade either. Particularly when you consider that air freight has very uneven flows and in most cases has significantly lower backhaul loads.

The fact is the A380F will still be carrying that extra 74 tonnes of structural weight on every flight - with little or no additional revenue to offset the significantly higher fuel consumption and operating costs associated with that extra weight.

There's also another point to consider about range and infrastructure requirements for freight. Today's long haul air freight network is built on 747 range and capabilities. Which means the 747-8 will fit easily into today's air freight carriers' operations and infrastructure.

And when you get right down to it, isn't it ironic that now Airbus is arguing for nonstop flights without the "hassle" of connecting through hubs? I mean, these are boxes, not people!

Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. And yes Tony, I guess I did have a wide smile on my face!

02 May 2006

Nuts about blogs

Southwest Airlines, welcome to the blogosphere.

Southwest, an outstanding Boeing customer, has decided that blogging is not so nutty, and started up the Nuts about Southwest blog a couple of weeks ago. As Southwest proclaimed in its first entry, "Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated Southwest is going to do it."

It's great that this fantastic airline is taking to the blogosphere to provide some insight into its world, its employees, and how they deliver superior customer service.

And I couldn't help but notice some mentions in the blog post about winglets on Southwest's fleet of 737s. They included some nice photos of winglets in flight.

And I really enjoyed another entry about the beekeeper who visited Southwest's Dallas maintenance hangar. The beekeeper said he understood why one of the airplanes was there to be fixed, because the wings were bent! A mechanic had to explain that actually, no, those were blended winglets, designed to help with fuel efficiency, range, and a variety of other benefits.

Good stuff.

Just browsing the site almost makes you want to sit back and rip open a bag of peanuts!