"We're right in the middle of realigning our entire product line," said Scott Fancher, vice president of airplane development for Boeing. "We're going to be in a constant state of development for the next 10 years."
Besides convincing potential customers that the company's revised jetliner catalog will have what they'll need, Boeing will have to convince air carriers that it can actually deliver when promised. Adding new models while maintaining, if not speeding, production rates on existing ones is not simple.
"The process of producing airplanes is becoming more and more important," Kent Fisher, who manages Boeing's supply chain, told journalists during a pre-air-show briefing.
Boeing managers in both Everett and Renton have been focused for the past few years on increasing production to meet demand. Earlier this week, Boeing estimated the world's airlines will need 35,280 new aircraft over the next 20 years. Most of those will be built by Boeing and European rival Airbus, which is headquartered in the air show's home country, France.
Next week, the two aerospace giants will wage a marketing battle. Here's what Boeing will tell prospective customers.
Boeing already is selling an updated version of its Renton-built single-aisle 737. The new plane will be called the 737 MAX, with the first of a family of three sizes to be delivered in 2017.
As for new twin-aisle jets, most of which are built in Everett, the company is delivering 787-8s and has begun assembly of a larger 787-9. The new product line Fancher pointed to also includes the 787-10, 777-8X and 777-9X.
It's possible Boeing will formally will launch the largest Dreamliner, the 787-10, at the Paris Air Show, which opens Monday at Le Bourget Airport outside the city. The company got the OK from the company board last year to talk to customers. Last month, Singapore Airlines went so far as to commit publicly to ordering 30 787-10s.
And several airlines, including Emirates, have expressed interest in a more fuel-efficient 777. Boeing is discussing two versions with customers: a 777-8X, which would seat about 350 passengers, and a 777-9X, seating 400.
The 777-8X likely will fly farther, at 9,500 nautical miles, than the other wide-body jets in Boeing's proposed product line, said Mike Bair, a vice president of marketing and business development. Others fly 8,000 miles.
The larger 777-9X will be 20 percent more-fuel-efficient than the existing 777-300ER it would replace, he said. Half of that fuel savings will come from newer engines; half will come from the jet's new composite wing.
"We're going to make them as big as we possibly can," Bair said.
Where and how that 777X wing is built is another question.
In Everett, where Boeing assembles the 777, the company has invested in new technology like automated drilling and painting equipment, to make production faster and more efficient.
In the past 10 years, Boeing has implemented a moving production line and increased production from three 777s per month to 8.3. The airplane also weighs roughly 1,000 pounds less than it did three years ago, said Elizabeth Lund, 777 program manager.
Sixty of those pounds came from a new method of painting the 777's wings, said Jason Clark, production manager. When the company wanted to boost 777 production from seven to 8.3 aircraft monthly, the limiting factor was painting the jet's wings.
Ultimately, Boeing invested in an automated system, which looks like two long robotic arms that sweep back and forth across the 777's wing. The new automation reduces the wing painting time from 150 minutes to 24 minutes, Clark said.
That automated painting mechanism is capable of painting any 777 wing, including the new 777X.
Boeing already has committed to boosting 787 production to a rate of 10 jets monthly by the end of this year. That includes seven jets per month in Everett and three at Boeing's site in North Charleston, S.C.
"We're focused on cleanly getting to 10," said Mike Sinnett, chief engineer on the 787.
As it increases 787-8 production, Boeing in May started assembly of the first 787-9 in Everett. Sinnett expects the first 787-9 to roll out of the Everett factory this summer and make a first flight a few weeks later.
If Boeing commits to the 787-10, it's under pressure to exceed the pace of 10 aircraft monthly to offer decent delivery slots to airlines.
Pat Shanahan, vice president of airplane programs, noted that the North Charleston facility has the capacity to assemble seven 787s per month, mirroring Everett's capacity.
To help Boeing reach the 10-per-month goal, the jetmaker established an extra line, or "surge" line, in Everett. But Shanahan suggested that line won't be in use when 787-10 production begins.
"I feel really confident you'll see the surge line go away sooner than later," he said. "We'd like to have the space."
What Boeing will use that space for -- a 777X line? Shanahan declined to say.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; email@example.com.
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