For Boeing, 2011 will be a year of opportunity

Next year will be pivotal for the Boeing Co.

As one might expect, the top priorities will be getting the delayed 787 and 747-8 programs on track.

“We will continue to focus on getting the 787 into commercial service, and the 747-8 as well,” said Nicole Piasecki, vice president of business development.

And the company will be boosting production rates to keep up with renewed demand for commercial jets in 2010. It’s a demand that Piasecki believes will continue into 2011, which should be a “healthy order year,” she said.

But 2011 also will be a year in which Boeing works to try to understand and meet its customers’ needs — in the near term with services and the long term with new technologies and new planes.

“It should be an exciting year for us in terms of commercial aviation services,” Piasecki said.

Those services start before an airline even takes delivery of a new airplane and continue until the jet is retired from flight. Boeing is already working with 787 and 747-8 customers to provide pilot training for the new aircraft.

After new aircraft — be they 787s or 777s — are delivered, the airplanes and their customers have new needs. Piasecki noted that airlines are outsourcing about 70 percent of the services required after receiving a new jet. That includes maintenance work, keeping an inventory of spare parts, and updating older jets with new interiors.

As new aircraft become more technologically savvy, airlines increasingly will rely on others to maintain their fleets. With the 787, for instance, Boeing has created a service program to help airlines operate their new planes as efficiently as possible. The company views commercial aviation services as an area with huge growth potential and one in which Boeing believes it has an advantage over emerging competitors as well as its main rival, Airbus.

Besides providing aviation services, Boeing will be working closely with customers in 2011 in order to understand what airlines are looking for in new airplanes.

Not only will that help Boeing determine next year what it needs to do to update the 737 and 777 programs, but it will help Boeing understand how the airline industry will look in 2020 and beyond, Piasecki said.

“We want to use 2011 to understand the necessary, vital technology” of the future, she said.

Boeing will be talking to its customers about what they’re expecting over the next 20 years and longer. It will look at how economical planes will need to be; how financing will play a role; and what type of cabin improvements passengers might expect.

That also means taking into account the needs of different carriers, some of which don’t even exist yet.

For example, air travel in China is expected to rise dramatically over the next few decades, prompting the emergence of new carriers. The needs of Chinese carriers will vary dramatically from those of U.S. legacy carriers, for example, Piasecki said.

Although determining upgrades for the 737 and the 777 are the more pressing decisions for 2011, Boeing is committed to ultimately creating new, innovative technologies for those aircraft and for the company’s next all-new jet.

“We like airplane programs that can last for 50 years,” Piasecki said.

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