EVERETT — A sea of umbrellas and 787 scarves surrounded the first Boeing Dreamliner as it was handed over to All Nippon Airways on Monday.
“No amount of rain can obscure the beauty of these airplanes,” said Pat Shanahan, vice president of the Boeing Co.’s airplane programs.
Hundreds of Boeing employees withstood the rain and wind outside the Everett factory to watch the first Dreamliner customer take delivery of its long-awaited 787. Boeing and ANA officials had signed the final contracts on Sunday. Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, handed over the ceremonial key to the 787 on Monday.
In the seven years since ANA placed the order that launched the Dreamliner, the jet maker and airline have forged a strong relationship, Albaugh said. The Japanese carrier has waited an extra three years to receive its first 787 due a variety of problems with the aircraft and its suppliers.
“Thank you for waiting for this day,” Jim McNerney, Boeing’s chief executive, said in Japanese to Shinichiro Ito, chief executive of ANA.
Ito thanked Boeing employees for their hard work on the Dreamliner, saying the companies had worked together and suffered together over the past several years.
“I can’t wait to see the day when the skies of the world are filled with 787s,” Ito said through a translator.
Boeing had one test 787, decorated in ANA’s paint scheme, on display when the ceremony began. Roughly 500 Boeing employees from across the country helped escort another Dreamliner to the ceremony. Before the event got started, they huddled under the wings to shield themselves from the rain.
Standing in line to get her photo taken on a lift in front of the 787, Vicki Hendrix, a project manager from Marysville, said she has worked on the 787 from the beginning.
“I need a photo opp, definitely,” she said. “To finally reach this day after all the delays is really monumental and it’s very exciting.”
Tony Miller, a materials manager, wasn’t deterred by the wind and rain.
“(I) would have loved to have 80 degree weather, but we’re all pretty excited,” said Miller, who lives in Mukilteo. “It’s been a long road.”
Boeing’s Shanahan echoed Miller’s remark, comparing the effort that it took Boeing employs to deliver the first Dreamliner to that of NASA workers in getting Neil Armstrong to the moon.
“This delivery signifies we made it,” he said. “We made it.”
During the three-year delay, customers have cancelled orders for about 100 of the jets. Boeing now has 821 orders for its Dreamliner, including 55 from ANA.
The Chicago-based company not only switched from a mostly aluminum to a mostly composite aircraft with the 787, but it also changed how the jet was made, relying extensively on global partners.
Boeing’s supplier strategy “meant that all of the world was part of this airplane,” Ito said.
Japanese companies — including Kawasaki, Fuji and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — supply about 35 percent of the 787’s parts. But not all of Boeing’s global partners performed so well.
Boeing consistently had trouble with sections coming from Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica. And Texas-based Vought Aircraft Industries, which opened a 787 fuselage factory in South Carolina, ran into such difficulties that Boeing had to buy Vought out. Boeing also bought out Vought and Alenia’s joint assembly site in South Carolina.
The problems with Boeing’s suppliers, along with engineering and production challenges, have cost the Chicago-based aerospace company billions of dollars and dented its reputation. Under Boeing’s accounting strategy, the company makes a profit on 787s from day one, McNerney said. But its break-even point is years down the road.
Analysts estimate Boeing won’t reach that point until the 1,000th 787 is delivered.
To get there, Boeing has to speed up production on the Dreamliner from its pace of two aircraft monthly to 10 monthly by the end of 2013. It’s a task that weighs heavily on the shoulders of Boeing’s unions.
“There are a lot of jobs that depend on getting the 787 up to speed,” said Tom McCarty, president of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, or SPEEA. “We’re going to do everything we can to turn this around and get the profits we need.”
Tom Wroblewski, president of Boeing’s Machinists union, said that the first delivery of a 787 “doesn’t mean the program’s out of the woods.”
Boeing’s global outsourcing strategy was supposed to mean fewer jobs for Wroblewski’s Machinists. But the stumbles by Boeing’s suppliers translated into more jobs — at least temporarily — as Machinists had to step in to fix suppliers’ mistakes.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Machinists union members have saved the 787 program — and quite possibly saved the Boeing Co. in the process,” Wroblewski said in a statement.
Despite the costs and headaches of the 787 program, Boeing officials and analysts alike believe the company will benefit in the long-run from the innovation of the 787.
Built with light-weight composite material and powered by more efficient engines, the 787 will allow Boeing and its customers to combat one of the toughest problems facing the industry: fuel costs, said Scott Fancher, general manager of the 787 program.
“Will we benefit and utilize what we’ve learned going forward? You betcha,” Fancher said at an event on Sunday.
Even Boeing’s rival, Airbus, congratulated the company on the first delivery of a 787.
“We wish @Boeing well on the new program. It’s always a great day for aviation when a new aircraft enters service,” wrote John Leahy, Airbus’ chief operating officer for customers, on Twitter.
Boeing’s shares rose $2.50 on Monday to close at $62.01.
After Monday’s ceremony, Boeing employees took turns posing with their work groups in front of ANA’s Dreamliner. Others surrounded 787 chief pilot Mike Carriker, taking pictures with him.
“It’s one of the greatest days in my career and I’ve been here for 26 years,” said Kurt Withnell, 52, who works in materials and process technology on the composite portion of the wing section.
ANA plans to fly its Dreamliner home to Tokyo on Tuesday.
“We will now carefully and lovingly take this (787) to Japan,” Ito said.
The airline will put the 787 into regular service Nov. 1.
“Many other airlines will fly the 787, but ANA will be the first,” Albaugh said.
Tracy Harrington, a procurement analyst who has worked for Boeing for 26 years, was excited to see ANA finally get its airplane.
“They’re going to be happy,” said Harrington, who lives in Lynnwood. “We like to see happy customers,”
Herald reporter Amy Daybert contributed to this story. Herald news services contributed to this report.