Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Boeing seeks efficiency by moving 747 and 767 programs under one director

Slow but efficient – that’s the pace Boeing is seeking, as it pulls the 747 and 767 jetliner programs under one leader.

The consolidation, announced Tuesday as part of a larger restructuring of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, will put both Everett aircraft assembly lines under the direction of Bruce Dickinson, who has been running the 747 line.

Boeing is dropping 747 production to one plane every two months this month, while it will slightly raise 767 production to two per month by 2017.

Between the two programs, that would be just 2.5 planes a month, a snail’s pace compared to other Boeing jetliner production lines. Building aircraft slowly brings a unique set of issues quite different from building them rapidly. The new management structure will allow Dickson to focus on slow-cooking skills, analysts say.

“It’s management of the legacy programs, consolidation of the units and the ability to control costs,” said Michel Merluzeau, an aerospace analyst who is a managing partner for Frost and Sullivan. “It makes absolute sense.”

While the two jets visually look quite different — the 747 with four engines and the 767 with two — they have much in common.

• Both are what’s known as “legacy” designs, meaning they’re mostly aluminum, with basic airframes designed decades ago.

• Both are primarily sold as freighters, which gives a different focus to their production – less on appearance and more on service.

• They’re physically close together at the west end of the vast Everett assembly building, with the 747s on the southwest corner, and the 767 on the northwest.

Between them the two jets take up the western half of the 4.3 million-square-foot building, with the 747 occupying three entire bays. The 747 factory floor these days seems relatively quiet during visits, due to the jet’s large size and slow production rate.

Analysts suggest that bringing the two models into one unit, under one leader, may help the relatively small production team remain large enough to cross-train, so there won’t be skills gaps.

“There would be shared people and teams to optimize the cost,” said Addison Schonland, a partner at Air Insight in Baltimore. “Boeing is trying to drive down costs, and it behooves them to keep the skill set high and functional, move them from one program to another.”

The fact that both jets are primarily sold as freighters is another synergy, with the 767 showing surprising promise for a model that Boeing several years ago was on the verge of halting.

Air Cargo Management Group Managing Director Bob Dahl said that the 767, now with unfilled orders for 75 jets mostly from FedEx, may well win more from air express carriers UPS and DHL which operate aging 767 fleets. He added orders may also come from growing Chinese freight carriers.

(Steve Wilhelm - Puget Sound Business journal)

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