Boeing considers faster assembly rate for 777X

EVERETT — The Boeing Co. is considering making its new 777X jetliner at a historically high rate for a mini-jumbo airplane.

The company is making sure it can make about 125 777Xs a year if demand is that high. That would be a 25 percent increase over the production rate for its 777 classic.

The push past 100 airplanes a year is “tentatively scheduled to begin in 2021,” according to a document prepared earlier this month by the state’s Department of Ecology.

However, Boeing has not committed to making that many 777X jetliners.

The Ecology document is part of an environmental permit application filed by Boeing.

“As part of our normal business planning, the 777X program needs to anticipate in any and all future possible requirements,” Boeing 777X program spokesman Scott Lefeber said. “Part of this evaluation requires Boeing to take action years in advance to ensure environmental permits, tools and parts are complete and ready to support our potential requirements.”

Right now, the company does not plan on taking production rates past the current 777 rate of 100 a year, or 8.3 a month.

Boeing aims to start low-rate production of the 777X in 2017. It plans to first deliver the larger 777-9 in 2020. The 777-8 would follow within a few years later.

The Chicago-based company is considering offering a freighter version based on the shorter 777-8 model. It could be available 18 to 24 months after first delivery of the 777-8, according to the company.

The number of workers at Boeing’s Everett plant, where the 777X will be assembled, could increase by as much as 3,000 due to the new airplane program, according to the Ecology document.

About 40,000 people currently work at the Everett facility, which is adjacent to Paine Field, according to the company.

Boeing does not publicly say how many people work on specific airplane programs. However, a study commissioned by the Washington Aerospace Partnership estimated that the 777 classic program directly employed 12,100 people — including 7,100 in production and maintenance — in 2012.

Executives have said they plan to reduce 777 production as it ramps up 777X production. Speaking to investment analysts last month, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg confirmed that 777 production is slated to step down to seven planes a month by 2017.

The actual output could be less than the production rate, which reflects how fast the giant airliners move along the final assembly line in Everett, said Boeing vice president Elizabeth Lund earlier this year. Lund is the 777’s program manager.

Output can be lowered by leaving a slot on the assembly line empty. The empty slots are called blanks.

Many industry analysts have speculated that Boeing will need to further cut production to 6 or even 5 planes a month.

Boeing will have to make a decision next year on how many 777s it wants to make, when it begins ordering parts for 2017 production.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454;; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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