SEATTLE — The Boeing Co.’s top engineer has been tapped to head the 747X development program, a move that suggests the company is committed to a launch next year despite a lack of firm orders for the new jet.
In a Friday e-mail to employees, Alan Mulally, head of Boeing’s commercial airplanes unit, said Walt Gillette will lead development of the 747X family of bigger, longer-range jumbo jets, a Seattle newspaper reported Saturday.
Gillette has been Boeing’s senior vice president for engineering. Hank Queen, who has held senior leadership positions in most of the company’s airplane programs, will succeed him in that post.
"We are all going to help Walt deliver this new airplane on time, meet all its performance goals and deliver the best value to our customers," Mulally wrote.
"It’s a significant challenge and Walt is the guy with the right set of skills to do the job," company spokesman Craig Martin said.
Boeing Chairman Phil Condit said this week he believes the 747X program will be launched in the first quarter of next year. Analysts have estimated its cost at $4 billion to $5 billion.
In addition to the 747X Stretch, which could enter service by 2005, Boeing plans several other new models: the 747-400X, an increased-gross-weight version that could be ready as soon as late 2002, a freighter version of the 747X Stretch and an ultra-long-range 747 known for now as the 747X.
The 747X Stretch has been getting most of the attention. It could carry about 100 passengers more than the 416-seat 747-400, and is being promoted to airlines as an alternative to the 555-passenger Airbus A3XX superjumbo.
The competition is intense. Airbus, which says it will launch the A3XX early next year, has firm orders for about 30 jets — one in September from Singapore Airlines.
While Boeing has no orders for the 747X family yet, spokeswoman Barbara Murphy says the company’s commitment to the program is reflected in Gillette’s appointment.
She noted that 10 months after Condit was named to head the 767X program, in December 1989, the plane was launched as the 777.
Before Gillette’s appointment, the 747X program did not have its own leader. Walt Orlowski remains vice president and general manager of all 747 programs.
Mulally said Jeff Peace will lead the 747-400 program and focus on lowering costs and improving the 747 production timetable.
He also said Mike Bair will lead the marketing group, reporting directly to Mulally. Bair has been vice president of marketing management for airplane programs. In the new post, Bair will oversee a broader range of marketing opportunities for Boeing, including its growing airplane services business.
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