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From: Eric3/25/2014 12:47:21 AM
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Analysis of ‘pings’ helped reach conclusions on 777’s fate

Detailed analysis of the time delay and frequency of hourly “pings” to and from a stationary satellite positioned over the central Indian Ocean helped narrow the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines 777.

By Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Richard Wainwright / The Associated Press

Crewmen on board an RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft check radar screens Monday while searching for missing Malaysia Airways Flight 370

Detailed analysis of hourly “pings” to and from a stationary satellite positioned over the central Indian Ocean has allowed authorities to conclude definitively that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 must have gone down in the southern part of the ocean.

Days after the plane disappeared, analysts at satellite provider Inmarsat used the precise time delay during transmission of those pings to calculate how far the plane was from the satellite, defining two vast circular arcs sweeping across south-central Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Now, an analysis of the shifting frequency of the signals — in the way the sound of a police siren changes as it comes toward you, then speeds away — and comparisons with signals from other planes in the region at the time has allowed the analysts to discount the northern arc and to zero in on a more defined final known position in the southern Indian Ocean, west of Australia.

“They’ve at least been able to narrow down to a fairly localized region” of that southern arc, said Tim Farrar, president of TMF Associates, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based satellite consulting company.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najiv Razak in a news conference Monday said this new analysis confirms beyond reasonable doubt that the plane soon afterward must have run out of fuel and crashed into those waters, and that all 239 people aboard must be dead.

“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” Najiv said.

Farrar said further analysis of the satellite signals could help narrow the search area further.

It could also help determine whether the plane was traveling for the last part of its journey in a straight line at a constant speed, with no apparent pilot intervention.

If so, that would raise the possibility that the plane was on autopilot before plunging into the ocean, with the pilots — and perhaps the passengers — incapacitated, possibly already dead.

Najiv said the conclusion the jet is lost in the location identified was arrived at “using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort.”

Tracking via satellite pings

Airliners use a satellite connection while out of radio range over the ocean for voice communication with the pilots and also to carry text messages to the airline operations base via the jet’s data-communications link, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS.

ACARS sent its last transmission a half-hour after takeoff. The last radio contact with the plane was 38 minutes into the flight; the jet dropped off radar minutes later.

Even if ACARS was either turned off by someone or ceased functioning because of some system failure, the satellite connection remained.

Just as a cellphone communicates with cell towers so that the network can reach it with an incoming call, the Inmarsat satellite sends an hourly message to the terminal on board the airplane to check that it is still connected.

In response, the terminal sends back a ping to say, yes, it’s still there.

The final ping from Flight 370 was sent at 8:11 a.m. local time, 7½ hours after the jet took off from Kuala Lumpur.

The pings identified the airplane as Flight 370 but contained no direct location data.

Nevertheless, Farrar, who said he spoke with both Inmarsat and the designers of the satellite equipment on the airplane, explained how it’s possible to use the raw ping data to deduce location information.

The time the response ping takes to travel from the plane to the satellite hovering 23,000 miles above the Indian Ocean varies according to the distance the signal must traverse.

The satellite recorded at what point in the predetermined transmission time slot the ping from Flight 370 arrived, and so established how far away the jet was.

It was this data that persuaded the Malaysian authorities, a week after the plane disappeared, to reorient the search toward two arcs in a large radius around the satellite.

One arc swept north over land into Central Asia, the other south into the remote southern ocean.

Not totally stationary

Subsequent analysis used the fact that the Inmarsat satellite is not perfectly stationary in its orbit.

Although it is fixed on the 64-degree east line of longitude, the satellite moved slightly from north to south of the equator during the jet’s flight, which means it was moving away from jets in the Northern hemisphere and moving toward jets in the Southern hemisphere.

The Doppler effect — the same phenomenon that changes the pitch of a siren as an ambulance moves toward, past and then away from a listener — enabled analysts to determine whether the plane is moving toward or away from the satellite as it pinged.

The frequency of the Flight 370 signal told analysts it was in the southern arc, not the northern.

By comparing the signals from other planes in the sky at the time that were pinging the same satellite and whose position was known, they were able to further narrow the jet’s possible location, Farrar said.

The search remains daunting. The area where it will now be concentrated, toward the southern tip of the original search arc, is still many tens of thousands of square miles.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or

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From: Eric4/1/2014 9:44:15 AM
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Page modified March 31, 2014 at 10:53 PM

Boeing blames pilots for Asiana 777 crash; airline faults software, too

Boeing on Monday firmly blamed the pilots for last year’s crash of an Asiana Airlines 777 in San Francisco, telling the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that the crash “would have been avoided had the flight crew followed procedures.

By Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

National Transportation Safety Board / Getty Images

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator examines debris at the Asiana Airlines crash site last July.

Boeing on Monday firmly blamed the pilots for last year’s crash of an Asiana Airlines 777 in San Francisco, telling the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that the crash “would have been avoided had the flight crew followed procedures.”“This accident occurred due to the flight crew’s failure to monitor and control airspeed, thrust level and glide path,” Boeing said in a document submitted for the agency’s investigation of last July’s crash in which three passengers died.

Asiana partly agreed with Boeing in its own submission to the NTSB, but it also found fault with the design of the jet’s automated flight controls.

The South Korean carrier wrote that “the probable cause of this accident was the flight crew’s failure to monitor and maintain a minimum safe airspeed during a final approach.”

However, its report cites factors it says contributed to the crash, including the logic built into the plane’s autothrottle software.

Boeing and Asiana agree that as the pilots came in to land, they expected the autothrottle to automatically supply engine thrust to maintain a minimum airspeed. In fact, in the flight mode they had engaged, the onus was on them to maintain the speed.

Asiana also faulted the cockpit alerting systems as providing “inadequate warning” that the speed had dropped dangerously low.

The discrepancy between the airline and the jet-maker pivots around Boeing’s flight-control design philosophy, cited in its submission as requiring “the pilot always has the final authority over any automation system.”

In an earlier NTSB hearing in December, Boeing staunchly defended this automation-control design.

The issue will now come under intense NTSB scrutiny as the agency does its final report on the July 6 crash.

Because the airport’s instrument-landing system was out of service that day due to construction, pilots had no digital glide path in the sky to follow. They had to manually land planes.

But Asiana Flight 214 from Seoul, with 307 people aboard, came in too low and, traveling at 120 mph, clipped the seawall short of the runway. The main landing gear and the tail of the big jet sheared off.

Six people were thrown from the back of the jet when the tail detached. Three of them died. These were passengers in a rear row of seats; none was wearing a seat belt.

The other three, who were seriously injured, were flight attendants strapped into their seats at the rear of the plane for the landing.

Meanwhile, the rest of the plane slid along the ground, bounced, spun 330 degrees and hit the ground again.

The passenger cabin remained largely intact, enabling the remaining passengers and crew to survive.

As the plane came to a stop, the right engine caught fire. Everyone was evacuated on slides before the fire spread to the passenger cabin and burned through the fuselage.

The twin accounts by Boeing and Asiana largely agree on the events leading up to that deadly conclusion.

While approaching the airport, at about 1,600 feet, the pilot apparently accidentally selected an automated mode called Flight Level Change, which directed the autopilot to climb to a higher level.

To correct this error and cancel the climb, the crew disconnected the autopilot and manually pulled the throttles back to idle.

Boeing’s design philosophy interpreted this action as a manual override of the autothrottle by the crew.

In other situations, for example cruising at 35,000 feet, the autothrottle will automatically come alive and increase thrust if the airspeed falls too low.

But at that moment on Flight 214, with the assumption that the pilot had taken control of thrust, the Boeing control logic transitioned the autothrottle to hold mode, meaning it was ready to adjust the thrust again only if commanded to do so by the pilot’s actions.

At this point, the autothrottle had ceded control to the pilots, but the crew had lost touch with what was happening.

With the engines at idle and the autothrottle on hold, the crew didn’t monitor the jet’s speed.

Doug Rice, a veteran commercial-airline pilot and a board member of the California Pilots Association, said foreign flight crews often lack manual flying experience.

He believes the Asiana pilots were unable to cope that day with the fact that the instrument-landing equipment was out.

“It wasn’t like it was dangerous,” Rice said. “It was a beautiful day. And they didn’t fly the airplane.

“They didn’t miss their touchdown target by a little bit,” he added. “They missed by a third of a mile.”

In the December NTSB hearing, John Cashman, the test pilot who flew the 777 maiden flight in 1994, defended Boeing’s flight-control logic.

“It goes back to that original philosophy: not changing modes in an autopilot that the pilot doesn’t command,” Cashman said.

He said the pilot has to have the authority, should he see oncoming traffic or some other reason to change course, to fully control the airplane.

Asiana mentions in its submission that this precise situation arose during a test flight of a 787 Dreamliner, which has the same flight-control logic.

In that instance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test pilot questioned the fact that the autothrottle didn’t wake up automatically when the speed dropped.

But an FAA manager at the December hearing testified that after discussions with Boeing “the FAA pilot determined that the fact that the autothrottle did not wake up was not a safety issue.”

Asiana recommends in its submission to the NTSB that Boeing insert more explicit warnings in its flight-crew training manuals about this specific circumstance and also that it should develop stronger alerting features to mitigate any automation “surprise.”

Rice said such steps, rather than changing the logic of Boeing’s flight-control philosophy, is the right response.

“I don’t believe the philosophy needs changed,” said Rice. “We need to make sure the pilots understand the philosophy and they must demonstrate that knowledge during their training.”

The San Francisco crash was the first fatal accident of a 777. The NTSB investigation continues and will eventually produce recommendations.

There appears to be no link to what happened with the missing Malaysian 777 lost in March.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or

My comments:

As a pilot and a FAA certified flight instructor for me it's sad to see that both pilots failed to do the simplest primary function... maintaining the correct airspeed at all times, especially during the most critical phase of flight, landing.


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From: Eric4/2/2014 9:42:18 AM
   of 3362
One final voyage for Boeing-built NASA shuttle carrier

The specially modified 747, used to ferry dozens of space shuttles over the decades, is being dismantled for a move to Space Center Houston, where it will be reassembled and go on display..

Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle

Boeing employees work to dismantle the NASA Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at Ellington Field near Houston. The modified 747 is being moved late this month to Space Center Houston, where it will anchor an exhibit.


Houston Chronicle

Steven Ramey is standing inside a Boeing 747 fuel tank, and he’s having the time of his life.

Pointing to where the aircraft’s 50,000-pound wing attaches to the fuselage, Ramey notes where bolts are being removed.

“This is the first time we’ve pulled off a wing,” the Boeing employee says. “It’s great. We get to come in here, like a bunch of kids, tear it apart and then put it back together.”

The wing belongs to NASA 905, a jumbo jet that ferried space shuttles from landing sites in California and New Mexico back to Florida.

Now stationed at Ellington Field near Houston, the aircraft, which is 232 feet long and 63 feet tall, is being disassembled for an 8-mile move in late April to Space Center Houston.

In its current state, the plane is yet another reminder that the shuttle program is now part of history.

An “Aircraft on Ground” team from Boeing is carefully removing parts and the bolts that attach them, and storing them for reassembly. Although the plane will break into nine big pieces for the trip, there are thousands of smaller pieces. Cranes and drills and airplane parts are strewn everywhere.

“One of our biggest logistics problems is keeping track of the parts,” said Ramey, a lead foreman on Boeing’s aviation-services team. “It’s kind of like we are moving a puzzle from one location to another.”

Later this year, Ramey and his team will put the plane back together, a 44-day process that will reverse the work they’re doing. Then the museum will place a space shuttle mock-up — Independence — atop it.

In 2015, both the aircraft and shuttle will open as an interactive, six-story display.

The museum needs about $12 million to move the aircraft and set it up for display, said Jack Moore, a spokesman for the facility. They’ve raised $9 million, including an in-kind donation by Boeing for the work of employees like Ramey.

The crew, most of whom are from Washington state, were eager to tackle this kind of assignment. It’s a happier job than, say, the more typical work of rescuing an aircraft that’s gone off the end of a runway.

“I’ve been in the industry for 20 years and I don’t think anyone in this group had done this before,” said Tom Conant, a team captain for the aviation-services unit.

Even after breaking down the mammoth aircraft, the move by the 1,000-foot trailer convoy will be an arduous, two-night affair.

While the move will be at night to minimize traffic disruptions, it should nonetheless be a public spectacle and there will be viewing locations along the way.

Although it may seem audacious to plant a shuttle atop an aircraft, this combination actually weighed less than a fully booked 747 with passengers and their luggage.

Built in 1970, NASA 905 was one of the first 100 aircraft in Boeing’s 747 line, of which there have now been 1,500 made.

NASA acquired the plane from American Airlines in 1974 and began testing it with space shuttle Enterprise — which never flew into space — in 1977.

In addition to carrying the active orbiters across the country, the aircraft once carried Enterprise to Europe for display in England and at the Paris Air Show.

It was also the aircraft that carried Enterprise and the operational shuttles Discovery and Endeavour to their retirement homes in New York, Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, respectively.

NASA 905 made its last flight in December 2012. Now the grounded aircraft has but one trip before a final retirement.

Seattle Times staff contributed to this report.

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From: JakeStraw5/2/2014 8:53:55 AM
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New Boeing jets hold key to more than half of future sales

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To: JakeStraw who wrote (3262)7/17/2014 10:43:00 AM
From: Eric
   of 3362
Boeing Buoyed at Show With $46 Billion in Day-Three Sales

By Julie Johnsson and Kari Lundgren

Jul 16, 2014 4:09 PM PT

Source: Boeing
777-300 with Qatar Airways livery.

Boeing Co. (BA) escaped Airbus Group NV (AIR)’s shadow on the third day of the Farnborough Air Show as an agreement to sell new 777X jets to Qatar Airways Ltd. drove a $46 billion haul of orders and options.

After dominating Boeing on the first two days of the event, Airbus reported one deal yesterday valued at $1.2 billion at list prices, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries. Boeing’s accord with Qatar Airways, which isn’t a completed order, is for 50 of the -9X version along with 50 options.

The agreement nudged Boeing ahead of Airbus in announced sales at the biggest aviation expo, with about $63 billion to the European planemaker’s $61 billion, the Bloomberg Industries tally showed. Even as the industry events at the show wind down today, the manufacturers will be working to ensure that the pledges to buy planes eventually are booked as firm orders.

“This is potentially useful as a guide, but with backlogs the size of the ones at both Boeing and Airbus, it has little near-term impact,” George Hamlin, a former Airbus executive who now runs Hamlin Transportation Consulting, said this week in an interview about the day-by-day sales jockeying.

Qatar Airways doubled its planned purchases of the upgraded 777 in yesterday’s transaction, after firming up a deal for the same number announced at the Dubai air show in November.

Photographer: Duncan Chard/Bloomberg
A model of Boeing's 777X aircraft, manufactured by Boeing Co.

List Prices

The latest agreement has a list value of $37.7 billion, Chicago-based Boeing said. That would make it the biggest deal yet at this year’s show. Boeing’s backlog was 5,197 planes through June, compared with 5,546 for Toulouse, France-based Airbus, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries.

Airbus took an early advantage this week after introducing an updated version of its A330 wide-body with more fuel-efficient engines. Lessors have dominated the deals, with Qatar Airways and AirAsia Group Bhd among the few airline customers.

“The preponderance of lessor orders at the show is largely a function of timing, we believe,” Gary Liebowitz, a New York-based analyst with Wells Fargo Securities, said in a note to clients this week. Lessors over time will command about quarter of the planemakers’ backlogs and own 45 percent to 50 percent of the global aircraft fleet.

Boeing also pulled in an order from China’s Hainan Airlines Co. (600221) for 50 737MAX-8 single-aisle airliners valued at $5.1 billion at list prices, as well as two current-version 737-700s from Air Algerie SpA. MG Aviation, a leasing company, agreed to buy two 787-9, the mid-sized version of the Dreamliner model.

The 777X will be introduced by the end of the decade to follow the current 777, a long-range wide-body jet that boasts the world’s largest commercial engine. Only one buyer formally expressed interest in Airbus’s competing A350 this week: Air Mauritius Ltd. took options on four planes.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Johnsson in Farnborough, England, at; Kari Lundgren in Farnborough, England, at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at; Benedikt Kammel at Stephen West

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To: JakeStraw who wrote (3262)12/11/2014 8:46:15 AM
From: Eric
   of 3362
Originally published December 10, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Page modified December 10, 2014 at 7:22 PM

With no new orders for huge A380, Airbus raises prospect of ditching jet

Airbus Group raised the prospect of discontinuing its A380 superjumbo as soon as 2018, the first admission that it may have misjudged the market for the double-decker after failing to find a single airline buyer this year.

By Andrea Rothman

Bloomberg News

An Airbus A380 aircraft, operated by Korean Airlines, is displayed at the 2011 Paris Air Show.

Airbus Group raised the prospect of discontinuing its A380 superjumbo as soon as 2018, the first admission that it may have misjudged the market for the double-decker after failing to find a single airline buyer this year.

While Airbus will break even on the plane in 2015, 2016 and 2017, that outlook doesn’t hold for 2018, forcing the company to either offer new engines to make the A380 more attractive or discontinue the program, Chief Financial Officer Harald Wilhelm told investors at a meeting in London on Wednesday.

His comments come as 2014 shapes up to be the first since the double-decker entered service without a new airliner customer. Its only buyer was a leasing company that has yet to line up a single carrier to take any of the 20 planes it ordered. The backlog remains as thin as it is fragile, highlighted by the cancellation of six jets ordered by Japan’s Skymark Airlines, with two close to handover.

In its seventh year in operation, the aircraft that cost $25 billion to develop threatens to become a costly misstep. While popular with travelers, most carriers prefer smaller twin-jet models that are more fuel efficient and can access more airports. Emirates is the only stand-out sponsor, having ordered 140 units, while other airlines have either backed off or are struggling to fill the two decks of the jumbo.

“It’s an excellent plane, but it only works for the right destinations,” said Air France-KLM Group Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac, who aims to cancel the last two of a dozen A380s on order and swap them for smaller models.

Chris Buckley, Airbus’ executive vice president, Europe, Asia and Pacific, said the company has been “at fault” in the way it marketed the aircraft, letting carriers customize the interiors rather than pushing the high-density credentials of the double-decker.

The four-engine widebody airliner is a rarity, after Airbus killed its A340. Boeing said Tuesday that it will cut back production of its 747 jumbo to 16 a year from 18 in 2015.

Emirates President Tim Clark is pushing Airbus to upgrade the A380’s engines to improve fuel efficiency, a move Airbus is resisting because the cost of doing so doesn’t match demand for the plane. Keeping the plane unchanged may mean running down the backlog and eventually shutting down production, now at just under 30 a year, analysts said.

“Airbus will be obliged to make a decision one way or the other in 2015,” said Yan Derocles, an analyst at Oddo Securities in Paris, who estimates an engine upgrade may cost Airbus 2 billion euros ($2.47 billion) because of work required on the wing.

An engine upgrade would take about four years, according to Derocles. The A380 now comes with a choice of engines either by Rolls-Royce Holdings or a joint venture between General Electric and United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney.

The A380’s lackluster demand contrasts with a boom in orders for other models. Airbus’ best-seller remains its A320 family of single-aisle jets, which it made even more popular by offering new engines. The same concept added momentum to the A330 widebody jet.

The all-new A350, a twin-engine long-range widebody plane made of advanced lightweight materials, has almost 800 orders before its first handover.

Airbus has won orders for 318 of the jumbos. That’s a fraction of the 1,200 it thought airlines needed in that size category when it started marketing in 2000. Emirates accounts for 40 percent of the order book, while airlines including Virgin Atlantic Airways, Hong Kong Aviation and Air Austral are increasingly unlikely to ever take their planes.

Japan and China, originally seen by Airbus as key markets for the A380, have been disappointments, with only one Chinese airline taking five units. Boeing’s 747-8, the only rival, has fared even worse, winning 51 orders from four airlines.

“It’s a pity,” Clark, the Emirates president, said of the A380. “It’s a very big cash generator for us. I just open the doors and the people come.”

Emirates has been successful with its fleet of A380s because the airline uses its Dubai hub as a central point to connect major routes around the globe with just one stop. The A380 is also popular on capacity-restricted airports such as London Heathrow, while many smaller airfields lack the infrastructure to accommodate the plane.

Richard Aboulafia, vice president at the Teal Group and longtime critic of the plane, said the new large twin-engine planes coming to the market will be the death of the A380.

“I don’t think it lasts more than a few years into the next decade,” he said of the A380. “The quicker they let go, the quicker they can devote themselves to marketing efforts on other products.”

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From: FUBHO12/12/2014 12:36:03 AM
   of 3362
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed

Suggestion sent shockwaves through the aviation industry

Airbus plunged deeper into crisis yesterday as customers reacted with fury to its suggestion that it may stop producing the fabled A380 super-jumbo in 2018 because of poor sales.

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From: Eric12/29/2014 7:11:54 AM
   of 3362
Originally published December 28, 2014 at 8:17 PM | Page modified December 28, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Boeing calls tanker prototype’s first flight successful

A prototype for Boeing’s Air Force refueling tanker program made its first flight Sunday, taking off at Everett’s Paine Field and landing at Boeing Field in Seattle three and a half hours later.

Seattle Times business staff

Paul Gordon / Boeing

The first plane in Boeing’s program to develop an Air Force refueling tanker took off just after 9:30 a.m. from Paine Field in Everett.

A prototype for Boeing’s Air Force refueling tanker program made its first flight Sunday, taking off at Everett’s Paine Field and landing at Boeing Field in Seattle three and a half hours later.

The jet, a 767 with modifications that include a 787-style cockpit and extra fuel tanks but no military systems, is one of two planes to be used for initial Federal Aviation Administration certification. Military systems will be installed later.

Two additional planes with the full array of refueling systems will be the first true KC-46 tankers.

Boeing’s Air Force contract calls for delivering 179 tankers for $51 billion, starting with 18 aircraft by 2017.

The Air Force general in charge of the program estimated this month that the initial phase of Boeing’s fixed-price contract will go $1.5 billion over budget.

The first flight came six months behind Boeing’s original schedule. Causes for delay on the initial plane included complex new wiring that was repeatedly removed and reinstalled in order to meet Air Force specifications.

Boeing termed the flight “successful” but provided no details.

The KC-46 design includes an advanced refueling boom that can be hooked up to some jet fighters by an operator sitting at a station behind the tanker’s cockpit. Using a 3D video display, the boom operator will navigate the telescopic tip of the refueling tube toward the receiving fighter’s fuel receptacle.

Other jet fighters will be refueled via drogues extended from refueling pods on the wings and the tail.

Integration of the complex software systems that control this military hardware is a major challenge.

To meet its delivery schedule for 2017, Boeing must hand over the first tanker for the Air Force to test and evaluate in the fall of 2016.

Despite the program glitches this year, Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, said at a Dec. 3 investor conference that company management is “feeling very good about where that program is at now.”

“We’ve got some of those technical issues behind us,” Muilenburg said. “We’ll now focus on executing the flight-test program under development, and then getting the program into production.”

Material from Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

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From: Eric12/30/2014 11:34:22 AM
   of 3362
Originally published December 29, 2014 at 8:43 PM | Page modified December 30, 2014 at 8:07 AM

Boeing bullish, dismisses doubters, as record year ends After beating Airbus in jetliner deliveries again this year, Boeing looks to ramp up production at Renton, predicts abundant job openings in the years ahead, and dismisses worries raised by analysts.

By Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

Machinists Adam Fobes, front, and Andy Lee
insulate ribs in a 737 wing . The company has plans to boost Renton production from 42 planes a month to 52

As a record production year winds down at Boeing, executives shrug off analysts’ worries about a possible downturn and express full confidence in busy years ahead for Washington state’s aerospace industry.

With massive production hikes planned and a wave of worker retirements on the horizon, Pat Shanahan, Boeing vice president in charge of airplane programs, said the company expects to hire 20,000 to 30,000 people here through the end of this decade.

At the same time, Boeing is making big investments in new automation equipment that promises to transform the nature of blue-collar production jobs for those future hires.

Inside the Renton 737 jet assembly plant, where two assembly lines each pump out 21 airplanes every month, construction crews are installing the foundation for a third — the new 737 MAX line that will begin production in 2015.

Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

Gary Laws, a team-lead mechanic who works at Boeing’s 737 wing-assembly facility in Renton, says an automated fastener machine has transformed his job.

On a tour this month, Shanahan predicted the Renton plant won’t miss a beat executing Boeing’s ambitious plan: “Going to 52 a month, introducing the MAX and changing our manufacturing process, all simultaneously.”

In the adjacent 737 wing facility, a shiny, new 25-foot-tall automated wing-panel fastening machine is being put through its paces to gain certification for initial operation in the spring.

Boeing is installing eight of these multimillion-dollar machines — designed and built by Electroimpact of Mukilteo — to make possible its plan for the astonishing Renton ramp-up to 52 jets per month, triple what it was a decade ago.

Meanwhile in Everett, construction is well along on two buildings that will house production of the Boeing 777X wings and fuselage. There, too, new advanced automated systems will pump out ever more airplanes.

Is everything awesome?

Airbus, equally bullish, has ramp-up plans parallel to Boeing’s.

Barry Eccleston, president of Airbus Americas, said he sees no waning of the prolonged aviation boom.

“We’re not seeing any weakness in the order book or any slowdown in the ordering rate,” Eccleston said.

The way both prime manufacturers paint a glowing picture of the industry’s prospects was lampooned at an industry conference earlier this year by Adam Pilarski, a respected industry veteran and senior vice president with consulting firm Avitas, who started his presentation by playing a “Lego Movie” song: “Everything is Awesome.”

“That’s exactly how Boeing feels,” Pilarski said in a year-end interview. “But airplane financiers respond: ‘What are you talking about?’?”

Wall Street analysts have repeatedly warned that production rates for the Airbus A330 and for Boeing’s 777 may need to be cut back severely before the end of the decade if the plane builders can’t find customers for the last of their current models as major upgrades are readied.

At the Airbus investor conference in London this month, executives presented slides showing the worst-case scenario of having to drop A330 production from 10 jets per month today to six per month for a couple of years.

That’s possible because Airbus has lots of empty delivery slots for the current model in the two years before it introduces a new A330neo in 2018.

A bridge to 777X

Boeing faces a similar issue with its star widebody jet, the 777, produced at a rate of 100 per year in Everett. The 777X, a major upgrade, is due in 2020.

Over the next six years, Boeing needs to win about 350 new orders for the current 777 to keep production humming until the 777X arrives.

In addition to these model-transition issues, Pilarski has a broader concern: “a reasonable chance of increased cancellations and deferrals” after years of airlines ordering more planes than the market requires.

This month, Air France-KLM management said it will defer five 777s due to be delivered in 2015 and 2016.

Pilarski puts the deferral down to “double-counting” of orders, meaning that legacy European flag carriers like Air France and the big new Middle Eastern carriers have all ordered planes that will compete with each other for passenger traffic.

In June, German flag carrier Lufthansa warned of an excess of airplanes on its long-haul routes due to “strong capacity growth by state-owned Gulf carriers.”

In Asia too, Pilarski said, low-cost startups and more established airlines have separately ordered hundreds of jets to chase the same passengers.

The combined order book of jets for the newcomer carriers and the older carriers is simply too many airplanes, he said.

“It’s all for the same traffic,” said Pilarski. “That cannot continue.”

While acknowledging that Boeing’s business is booming right now, he puts the chances of a production downturn by 2020 at 50-50.

“If I were Boeing, I’d be happy,” Pilarksi said. “But there may be some dark clouds on the horizon.”

Boeing executives brush aside such talk.

Vice president of marketing Randy Tinseth agreed that some legacy European flag carriers indeed find themselves “at a crossroads” because of competition from the Gulf carriers. But he said the company’s order book is so large and diverse — a backlog of more than 5,700 airplanes — that individual deferrals have minimal impact.

John Wojick, sales chief at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, insisted Boeing won’t have to “significantly change” the current 777 production rate.

Who’s No. 1?

Such optimism is backed by Boeing’s stellar manufacturing and sales performance in 2014.

“This year, Boeing is probably going to outdeliver Airbus in single-aisle jets for the first time since 2002, and we’re going to smash them on widebodies,” Wojick said. “It’s not even close.”

It’s true that by the end of this month, Boeing will have eclipsed Airbus in the number of airplanes delivered in 2014.

Heading to yet another all-time-high production year from local factories — and for the first time with significant added help from Boeing South Carolina — Boeing will beat Airbus in deliveries of larger widebody jets by a wide margin.

At the end of November, the U.S. jet maker had delivered 89 more widebody jets than Airbus this year.

According to Uresh Sheth’s blog that tracks 787 production, just before Christmas Boeing had delivered 108 Dreamliners this year, 31 of those built in South Carolina and 77 in Everett.

And as Wojick indicated, Boeing might close 2014 by building more narrowbody jets than Airbus — something it hasn’t achieved in a dozen years.

As of the end of November, Boeing had delivered 440 of its single-aisle 737s, compared with Airbus’s 436 of the rival A320.

This will be Boeing’s third consecutive year as the world’s leader in commercial jet manufacturing, after nine straight years of Airbus building more jets.

“We worked extremely hard ... to get back to being Number One in aviation,” said Wojick.

While Boeing wins big on production, the 2014 sales race is a closer call.

In early December, Boeing held a healthy lead in new orders, with 1,274 planes sold net of cancellations, to 1,094 planes for its European rival.

Airbus sales chief John Leahy could turn that around if he firms up some previously announced commitments in his typical year-end order rush.

But even then, Boeing will almost certainly come out ahead in the total value of 2014 sales, since a greater share of its new orders are expensive widebody jets.

Airplane strategy

Still, Airbus can point to significant strategic progress in 2014.

In the smaller-airplane segment, its A320neo family of jets continues to outsell Boeing’s 737 MAX family.

Eccleston said the Airbus advantage there is primarily due to its largest model, the A321neo, outselling the largest Boeing model, the 737 MAX 9.

Many analysts see the A321neo as the superior plane in this specific matchup. It carries more passengers and has better takeoff performance.

Boeing’s Wojick insisted that the vast majority of sales will go to the respective medium-sized variants — the 737 MAX 8 and the A320neo — and said Boeing wouldn’t be planning to build 52 jets a month if not totally confident in the MAX.

“This race has a long way to go,” said Wojick.

In large widebody jets, Boeing has been dominant for years. But in 2014, Airbus delivered its first A350 and launched the A330neo, key moves in challenging Boeing’s dominance.

Last month, Delta ordered 25 Airbus A330-900neos for its transatlantic routes, a strong validation of Eccleston’s argument that the ultra-long-range 787 is “too much airplane” for such medium-range routes.

Pilarski said the cost-effective A330neo — an aircraft with an older design but new engines — has the potential to sell close to 1,000 units.

However, Airbus appears to have a problem with its largest A350, the A350-1000 model, designed to compete with the 777.

Though that model has sold poorly, Eccleston insisted that Airbus has no plans to revamp or stretch it.

That’s welcome news for Boeing and its 777X.

Boeing workforce

For Boeing, 2014 began with intense labor acrimony over the eight-year 777X contract extension that froze the pensions of workers in the Machinists union.

Management later announced the company would move thousands of engineering and defense jobs out of state, heightening the animosity.

Many of those job transfers haven’t happened yet. But through November, Boeing employment in the state dipped to 81,099, a drop of just over 900 jobs.

In addition to cuts through attrition, Boeing said 236 employees transferred to California as engineering support work was moved, and 410 others were laid off.

One consequence of the recent labor strife is likely to be a wave of retirements in coming years, especially at the end of 2018 — when the particularly generous 401(k) matches in the first two years of the 777X contract run out.

For all the hiring that Shanahan promises is ahead, plans to massively increase automation probably mean that not all of those retirees will be replaced.

By the end of the decade, there may be fewer Boeing blue-collar workers in Washington state than there are today, and the work they do could be very different.

Gary Laws, 40, who operates an automated fastener machine in the 737 wing-assembly facility in Renton, offers a glimpse at the shifting nature of manual work at Boeing.

Laws described how the automation already in place has made his job dramatically easier and better since he joined Boeing 19 years ago.

Back then, he said, the wing panels were held in huge fixtures several stories high, and most of the drilling and riveting was done by hand — work that was very hard on the body.

Today he sits at an operating console, deciding which parts are loaded and when, continuously monitoring the machine and the tasks that it performs.

When a drill bit breaks in the machine, he’s alert to the change in sound.

Laws is proud of his role in the extraordinary increase in the Renton site’s productivity.

Fueling the remarkable 737 rate increases, he and his workmates constantly come up with ways to sequence the work more efficiently.

He’s no longer paid to punch rivets.

“I’m paid to think and for my troubleshooting skills,” Laws said.

“I can wear a nice shirt to work.”

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

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From: Eric1/13/2015 5:19:04 PM
   of 3362
Originally published January 13, 2015 at 7:56 AM | Page modified January 13, 2015 at 12:57 PM

Airbus’ 2014 sales tally shows Boeing is still No. 1

Boeing topped Airbus in 2014 airplane deliveries, holding onto its claim as the world’s No. 1 airplane maker. And though Airbus sold more jets, Boeing’s sales have a higher total dollar value.

By Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

European jet maker Airbus released its final 2014 delivery and order data in France early Tuesday, showing Boeing — as expected — retains its claim to the title of the world’s No. 1 airplane maker.

However, in the latest strategic chess move designed to stake out a competitive advantage in the future, Airbus also formally launched a new longer-range version of its A321neo, threatening sales of the 737 MAX 9.

Boeing delivered substantially more airplanes than Airbus in 2014, rolling out 723 airplanes to 629 from its European rival.

For the third year running, Airbus sold slightly more jets, with 1,456 net orders last year to 1,432 for Boeing.

However, Boeing’s 2014 sales are skewed toward bigger, more expensive airplanes and so have a total dollar value about 45 percent higher than Airbus‘s sales.

Airbus ended the year with 135 net new orders for widebody jets compared with Boeing’s 328.

In terms of list prices — which are much higher than prices actually paid — Boeing’s 2014 net sales were worth $233 billion while Airbus’s total net sales were valued at $175 billion.

Based on real market pricing estimates by aircraft valuation firm Avitas, Boeing's 2014 net orders are valued at about $115 billion, while Airbus’s are valued at about $79 billion.

In a news conference in Toulouse, France, Airbus chief Fabrice Brégier said 2014 was “an excellent year.”

“The teams in Airbus not only delivered on, but exceeded their targets and commitments,” Bregier said.

Boeing, which announced its year-end sales and delivery data a week ago, issued a press release savoring its claim to be “the world’s largest airplane manufacturer.”

“What the Boeing team achieved in 2014 is truly unprecedented, especially in the face of fierce competition,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner.

In jet deliveries, Boeing came out ahead for the third consecutive year, after nine straight years before that when Airbus built more jets.

The value of Boeing’s 2014 jet deliveries, based on actual market values provided by Avitas, was about $58 billion.

In comparison, Airbus’s jet deliveries were valued at about $40 billion.

Boeing’s advantage lay in its rolling out many more widebody jets — especially 787s and 777s as well as 767s and 747s — than Airbus, which has only its A330s and a few of its largest model A380s in that big jet category.

Boeing handed over 238 widebodies to customers in 2014. Airbus delivered only 139 of these bigger jets, including 30 superjumbo A380s.

That means Boeing airplanes accounted for 63 percent of widebody jet deliveries.

In 2014 deliveries of the smaller, single-aisle jets, Boeing came close to matching Airbus, something it hasn’t done in a dozen years.

That’s because the 737 workforce in Renton reached unprecedented levels of productivity in 2014, ramping up to 42 jets per month.

Boeing delivered 485 of its single-aisle 737s, just shy of Airbus’ 490 deliveries of the rival A320s.

Will Boeing hold onto this 50:50 parity in the small airplane market?

Some in the industry believe Airbus is positioned better for the future in this segment because, despite the huge success of the 737 MAX, it’s still being outsold by the Airbus A320neo family.

The Airbus A320neo sales edge is most apparent in the largest model, where Boeing has only 286 firm orders for the 737 MAX 9 compared to Airbus’s 755 orders for the corresponding A321neo.

In Toulouse Tuesday, Airbus ratcheted up the pressure in this segment by formally launching a new long-range variant of the A321neo, with a committment from Steven Udvar-Hazy — the CEO of Air Lease Corp. and the world’s most renowned airplane market analyst — to take 30 more of this newest model.

“The longer haul single aisle market is a lucrative one that the A321neo will now dominate,” Udvar-Hazy said in a statement.

Airbus is pitching this long-range A321 as a replacement for the out-of-production Boeing single-aisle 757 that some airlines use, for example, on North Atlantic routes between the U.S. East Coast and Europe.

Airbus has suggested the market for this size and range of plane could be 1,000 airplanes.

In a teleconference with journalists Tuesday, Boeing marketing vice president Randy Tinseth dismissed that saying that only “50 to 60 757s are actually flying on these long-range markets today.”

“The thought of a 1,000-airplane market for an airplane of that size frankly is a little bit laughable,” Tinseth added.

Boeing sales chief John Wojick said the jetmaker continues to study the 757 replacement market and when the time is right will likely go with a new plane that is both larger and longer range than the 757 — in other words, a new plane category sized between the single-aisle 737 MAX 9 and the twin-aisle 787-8.

After a year when Boeing beat Airbus handily in deliveries, but just lagged in new orders, Wojick insisted that deliveries are what count.

The jet manufacturers get paid most of the price of an airplane on delivery. While orders indicate future potential deliveries, some will inevitably be canceled and never be delivered.

“Where the rubber really hits the road is when airplanes actually deliver,” Wojick said.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

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