Huge 777 order fires up Everett Boeing plant

EVERETT — At his work station under a Boeing Co. 777, Tim Dixon conducted some of the last tests on the jet before it was to roll out the door in Everett Monday night.

The 777 belongs to Emirates Airlines, which placed an $18 billion order for 50 more on Sunday from the Dubai Air Show. At list prices, the deal is Boeing’s highest dollar value order in its history.

“Fifty airplanes is a good order,” said Dixon, who has worked on the 777 for nearly 20 years. “It makes me proud in a way that they want to order our airplane.”

Dixon was working on what will be Emirates’ 97th Boeing 777. Emirates already had 41 unfilled orders for 777s before it added the order for 50 777-300 Extended Range aircraft on Sunday.

“Emirates is one of our best customers,” Dixon said.

At the air show on Monday, Emirates airline President Tim Clark said the carrier would have “no problem” filling those new planes and the nearly 190 other aircraft it has ordered. It helps that the latest batch of 777s won’t begin to be delivered until 2015, giving the world economy time to recover.

“We’ve always been fairly bullish, and that is reflected in the size of the order and the value of the order. We’ve always taken a long-term view in regards to what is happening in the global economy. And we still take that view,” Clark said.

Clark said Emirates needs the extra planes to keep up with passenger demand and cope with marathon flights that can last more than 14 hours as it pursues its strategy of linking far-flung cities through Dubai.

Larry Loftis, general manager of the 777 program, described Emirates’ order as a big statement from a major airline on the competitiveness of the 777 in the years to come. Boeing faces competition from Airbus with its A350 Extra Wide Body jet. But Airbus announced last week it will delay its A350 program by six months, giving Boeing breathing room to figure out its response.

Boeing “truly values Emirates’ opinion” on the future of the 777, Loftis said. Emirates has been pushing for an upgraded version of the 777, likely with new engines and wings, to be ready in 2017.

“There’s probably no airline who knows the 777 as well as Emirates,” Loftis said.

The latest order is the equivalent of six months of 777 production.

The jet maker has been planning ahead on the next bump in production on the 777 and will go to 8.3 aircraft monthly in early 2013. Boeing has been closely evaluating and monitoring its 777 suppliers and is pleased with their progress toward the rate increase.

“We’ve actually started the hiring process” in hopes of having enough trained workers on hand when the rate increase begins, Loftis said. With about a 20 percent increase in 777 production, Boeing will need nearly as much of a percentage increase in workers on that line.

Dixon, a Mukilteo resident who works in functional testing on the airplane, feels fairly confident the company will be able to ramp up production on the 777.

“I think it’s within our grasp,” he said.

The Emirates order was announced from the Dubai Air Show, where Boeing, Airbus and others are showing off their planes and discussing deals with carriers in the Middle East.

European manufacturer Airbus predicted Monday that the Middle East will require some 1,920 new planes worth more than $347 billion through 2030. It estimates Mideast passenger numbers will grow 6.4 percent annually — well above the predicted world average increase of 4.8 percent.

Boeing thinks the potential market is even bigger. Its own forecast, released shortly after its rival’s, puts Mideast demand at 2,520 planes worth $450 billion by the end of the next decade.

Boeing and Airbus both announced orders on Monday from the air show. Boeing won’t actually see a net gain in orders from its announcement. Oman Air has agreed to take over an order for six 787-8s from Kuwait’s Aviation Lease and Finance Co., known as ALAFCO.

Airbus said that ALAFCO has increased a deal for A320 new engine option jets to 50. ALAFCO had placed a tentative order for 30 this summer but finalized the deal for 50 on Monday.

The Dubai Air Show runs through Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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