Boeing: Getting 747-8 and 777 ready for production

EVERETT — Lost in the shuffle of the Boeing Co.’s labor negotiations, tanker troubles and 787 frenzy are the jet maker’s main staples: its 747 and 777 jets.

Over the next year, the two aircraft programs will bring to market new jet derivatives: the 747-8 and the 777 Freighter. Both new Boeing planes play prominent roles at the aerospace company’s Everett factory.

Machinists in Everett began work on the first 747-8 cargo plane in early August when the wing spar was loaded into position at the factory, said Tim Bader, spokesman for the 747 program. The jumbo jet remains in that first position.

Boeing expects to fly the first 747-8 Freighter in the early to mid-2009 time frame. The flight test program on the 747 could overlap with the company’s flight testing of its new 787 Dreamliner.

The new 747 gets its -8 from the Dreamliner, borrowing some of the 787’s features. The delayed Dreamliner is scheduled to make its maiden flight in the fourth quarter of 2008.

As the new, revamped 747 moves down the production line in Everett, the last 747-400 proceeds it.

“We did not start production on the (747)-8 until we started production on the last (747)-400,” Bader said.

The company likely will deliver the last 747-400 in January. At the end of July, Boeing still had 11 747-400 aircraft left to deliver. It plans to hand over the first 747-8 to Cargolux in late 2009.

With the 747-8, Boeing introduced the cargo version before the passenger version — a first for the company. The freighter also has outsold the 747-8 passenger plane, or Intercontinental, by a 3-to-1 ratio.

Germany’s Lufthansa is the only commercial airline to sign a firm order for the 747-8 passenger plane. It ordered 20 jets in December 2006. Boeing has sold seven 747-8 Intercontentials as business jets to private companies or individuals.

Nigeria’s Arik Air also has signed a tentative agreement for three 747-8 passenger jets, but that agreement has not been finalized, Bader said.

Boeing has 78 firm orders for its 747-8 Freighter.

Just a few doors down the way in Boeing’s Everett factory, workers are busy assembling the third 777 Freighter. The first 777 Freighter enters service with Air France later this year.

“We’re on schedule still for a fourth-quarter delivery,” said Carrie Thearle, 777 spokeswoman.

The first 777 Freighter took flight from Everett’s Paine Field on July 14. A second 777 cargo jet entered flight testing on Aug. 9. Both are completing flight testing out of Boeing Field in Seattle.

The two 777 Freighters will complete a total of 500 hours of ground testing and 270 hours of flight testing as Boeing works toward obtaining certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Boeing is building the 777 Freighter on the same moving line where it assembles passenger plane models, like the 777-300 Extended Range jet, which has a backlog of 223 unfilled orders.

As Boeing continues contract negotiations with its Machinists, it is under pressure to avoid a labor strike to keep not only its 787 on schedule but also to meet customer demands on its 777 and fast-selling single-aisle 737 jet, built in Renton. Those two jets have made up more than 90 percent of Boeing commercial jet deliveries this year.

Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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