By Debra Smith Herald Writer
EVERETT — Boeing marked the delivery of the 1,000th 777 Friday to Dubai-based Emirates Airline with hundreds of workers, foreign dignitaries, media from as far away as Oman and two perfectly-coiffed flight attendants.
The delivery was an important milestone for the company, one that’s taken 17 years to reach.
In the world of airplane building, 1,000 big airplanes in 17 years is a record — the fastest any company has delivered that many twin-aisle jets.
“One thousand is a pretty impressive number,” Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told the crowd. “When you produce 1,000 airplanes, you’re doing a lot of things right.”
The backdrop for the celebration was a gleaming plane scheduled to be delivered to Emirates later this month. It was parked behind a makeshift stage inside the cavernous Paine Field factory, painted in the usual Emirates livery but bearing a special flourish near the tail: “1,000th 777.”
Tanjer Gillard, a 34-year Boeing employee, watched with pride. He remembers building the first 777. He’s now in charge of 200 people who help prepare 777s for delivery.
He never gets tired of watching a plane take off for the first time.
“It’s an awesome airplane,” he said. “It’s emotional. I never thought we’d get there this fast.”
Said Troy McClelland, CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County: “This is a significant milestone for Washington state’s aerospace community and our region. This is not only proof of Boeing’s successful history here but a positive sign of future opportunity.”
The 777’s range, reliability and fuel efficiency have made it a popular choice for international routes.
Boeing executives say the plane is popular because the company did its homework when the 777 was designed — asking airline customers what they wanted.
While 64 airlines use the 777, no one buys as many of the planes as Emirates, a growing Middle East carrier that serves major cities worldwide.
In all, Emirates operates 102 777s in its present fleet, with pending orders for 93 more. Emirates is the only airline that operates all six variants of the 777.
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline and Group, was on hand to praise the plane as a “fuel-efficient workhorse” that’s enabled his company to link distant points around the globe with nonstop flights.
The newest 777-served Emirates route ends right here in the Northwest. Thursday the carrier launched service from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Dubai, where the airline is based.
The sheikh told the crowd, “We look forward to seeing you in Dubai very soon.” That comment drew chuckles from the workers.
He and other dignitaries emerged from a line of black sedans with tinted windows parked on the floor of the factory. Two Emirates flight attendants in conservative tan suits and red caps joined the officials on the stage.
To underscore the milestone, pep-rally speeches by company executives celebrating the company’s workers and customers were punctuated with professionally produced videos with heart-thumping music. The upbeat event set the stage for an uptick in production and a look at how the 777 should evolve.
Boeing plans to step up the production rate this fall, from building seven 777s per month to 8.3.
Boeing forecasts a need for 2,500 widebody airplanes including the 777 over the next two decades — in the Middle East alone.
“Clearly, if we look at where the widebodies are being purchased, it’s going to be Asia-Pacific and the Middle East,” he said.
Company executives Friday suggested again that the company is poised to invest in upgrading the plane. That variant is being informally called the 777-X.
Albaugh said the company hopes to share its vision of a future 777 program with the Boeing board of directors later this year. However, he added, it will be years before a new 777 is introduced.
“We have a lot of work to do before we can talk about a precise date,” he said. “We’re talking toward the end of the decade — late in the decade.”
Last week, Boeing swapped the managers of the 777 and 787 programs. That put Scott Fancher, the manager known for development skills, at the helm of the 777 line and Larry Loftis, the manager with proven production skills, in charge of the 787.
Albaugh said the move is just putting the talent where it will be most effective.
“Don’t read anything more into it than that,” he said.
The popular jet will face stiff competition when Airbus introduces the A350-1000, built mostly of composites like the Boeing 787. The European company has called the A350-1000 the “777 killer.”
Reporter Michelle Dunlop contributed to this report.