Say Hello to My Stretched-Out Friend

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C., Feb. 17, 2017 – The Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner, the third member of the 787 Dreamliner family, made its debut today at Boeing South Carolina. Thousands of employees at the North Charleston, S.C. site celebrated the event. Trump was there too. During his speech he said, “The 787 is a beautiful airplane,” which may be the first time I agree with something he’s said.

Image courtesy Boeing

“What’s happening here at Boeing South Carolina is a true American success story,” said Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing chairman, president and CEO. “In just a few short years, our team has transformed a greenfield site into a modern aerospace production facility that is delivering 787s to airlines all over the world and supporting thousands of U.S. jobs in the process.”

The 787-10, built exclusively at Boeing South Carolina, will now be prepared for its first flight in the coming weeks.

“This airplane, the most efficient in its class, is the result of years of hard work and dedication from our Boeing teammates, suppliers and community partners in South Carolina and across the globe,” said Kevin McAllister, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO. “We know our customers, including launch customer Singapore Airlines, are going to love what the 787-10 will do for their fleets, and we can’t wait to see them fly it.”

Boeing will deliver the 787-10 to airlines in 2018. The airplane has won 149 orders from nine customers across the globe.

The 787-10, the longest model of the Dreamliner family, will grow the nonstop routes opened by the 787-8 and 787-9 with unprecedented efficiency. As an 18-foot (5.5-m) stretch of the 787-9, the 787-10 will deliver the 787 family’s preferred passenger experience and long range with up to 10 percent better fuel use and emissions than the competition. The 787 Dreamliner family is a key part of Boeing’s twin-aisle strategy, which offers a modern, optimized and efficient airplane family in every market segment. Since entering service in 2011, the 787 family has flown more than 140 million people on 530 routes around the world, saving an estimated 13 billion pounds of fuel.

I’ve flown on both versions of the 787 that are currently flying with airlines. My first 787 flight experience was with British Airways in autumn 2015, of their 787-9 inaugural flight from London Heathrow to Austin, Texas. A couple of weeks later, I flew with Qatar Airways on a 787-8 delivery flight from Seattle to Doha. Both flights were in the front, thank goodness. In economy, when airlines arrange their seats at 9-abreast, it can be quite tight.

In my humble opinion, the 787-10 is the most attractive Dreamliner yet. I’ll hopefully get a close-up look next week when I travel to Charleston, SC for the delivery of Korean Airlines’ first 787-9.


Qatar Airways Announces Massive Boeing Order

qatar-787At a press conference in Washington, DC on Friday morning, Qatar Airways announced an order for 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and 10 777-300ERs, valued at $11.7 billion at list prices. The airline also signed a Letter of Intent for up to 60 737 MAX 8s, valued at $6.9 billion at list prices. This is clearly an intentional shot to the gut of rival manufacturer, Airbus.

Today’s announcement builds on Qatar Airways’ current fleet of 84 Boeing aircraft, a combination of 787s and 777s, all delivered over the last nine years. With this new order, Qatar Airways increases its firm order backlog of Boeing widebody airplanes from 65 to 105, including 60 777Xs. The slower sales of the 777-300ER this year mean that Qatar probably received a handsome discount on these planes.

Business Class on Qatar Airways 787-8 Dreamliner (photo: author)

“Qatar Airways, already one of the fastest growing airlines in the history of aviation, today announces a significant and historic aircraft order that will power our future growth for the years and the decades ahead,” said Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker. “Boeing has proven to be a valuable partner, and today’s announcement is testament to our appreciation of the quality of their product and their dedication to providing world class customer service.”

Al Baker has been passionately vocal about the issues his airline has experienced with Airbus this year. Qatar declined to take delivery of its first A320NEO aircraft, due to lingering problems with its Pratt & Whitney 1100G engines. The airline was supposed to be the launch customer for the A320NEO, but Lufthansa ended up taking first delivery once Qatar backed away. Since then, it has been received by six other airlines, including Air Asia, IndiGo, GoAir, Pegasus, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker with Boeing’s Ray Conner

Qatar still has A320NEO orders on the books with Airbus, but they sent a very clear message about their dissatisfaction by signing a letter of intent (LOI) to purchase up to sixty Boeing 737 MAX-8s along with the firm order for the 777s and 787s this morning.

Qatar was the first to operate the 787 in the Middle East and is a launch customer for the 777X. With the commitment for the 737 MAX 8, it would be the first Boeing single-aisle airplane model to join Qatar Airways’ fleet in more than 15 years. The airline previously flew Boeing 727s.

“Congratulations to The Boeing Company and Qatar Airways on the remarkable milestone they’ve reached, which will significantly grow the number of Boeing aircraft in the Qatar Airways fleet,” said U.S. Secretary of CommercePenny Pritzker. “Beyond its importance for these two companies, this agreement demonstrates the importance of global commercial partnerships in strengthening our bilateral ties. This deal will strengthen economic opportunity and job creation, and highlights the importance of strong global trading relationships.”

“We are so very proud that a discerning and market-leading customer like Qatar Airways not only continues to endorse our current products, but  also has confidence in Boeing’s new technology that will soon be evident on the 777X and 737 MAX,” said  Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner. “Our partnership with Qatar Airways has grown and strengthened tremendously over the years and I look forward to the time when its fleet will feature an increasing number of both our single and twin-aisle airplanes.”

In his remarks, Al Baker said, “Boeing’s competitors [Airbus] don’t want me saying this, but inside they know this is true: Boeing makes the best airplanes.” However, passengers might beg to differ as it is widely known among industry analysts that the economy seats in the Airbus A320NEO and A350XWB are wider and thus more comfortable.

Having flown with Qatar Airways a handful of times myself, it is exciting to see them continuing to advance their fleet growth. Though the Airbus A320NEO and A350-XWB are wider and thus more comfortable for economy class passengers, the airline has made growth and route expansion a priority. After all, few passengers will bother to research things like seat width between different aircraft types – but they should.


Boeing Launches Paper Planes to Kick off 100th Anniversary

Later this summer, Boeing will mark 100 years of changing the way humans move around the world, and the company has begun the celebration by unveiling some new airplane designs. But these planes aren’t ones that you’ll ever get to fly on — they’re the kind you fold and launch using your own muscle power.

The Flypaper Project” as it’s called, resulted in ‘the most aerodynamically engineered posters in the world.’  Boeing founder, Bill Boeing is known for saying “Build Something Better,” so Boeing asked their own engineers to submit designs for a better paper airplane. The company says getting young people to build a flying object with their own hands can help rekindle the wonder of flight, and inspire them to contribute to the future of aerospace.

Boeing Paper Airplane 1

The designers found the influence for their designs from encounters with engineering early in their childhood. Alexandra Sonnabend said she took apart toasters and vacuum cleaners as a kid, just to see how they work. As a female engineer, she also enjoys challenging the gender-based stereotype. Elizabeth Benson designed two of the Flypaper planes. She also liked to take things apart at a young age, and was taken on a Boeing tour by her father when in Middle School. Mahesh Changalva’s career in engineering was influenced as a kid in the 1970s, by an old issue of LIFE magazine about the first lunar landing. He say there was “no turning back” once he realized that engineering is what it took to get humans to the Moon.

The paper airplane designs were turned into poster art, making the design pleasing to the eye whether folded for flight, or hung on a wall. Boeing says they will distribute the posters to schools for education outreach programs, as well as make them available for purchase at Boeing stores.

Airbus in America — A First Look Inside the New Mobile, Alabama Assembly Facility

It was July, 2012, when Airbus formally announced its first Aircraft assembly site on U.S. soil — a $600 million site to be built in Mobile, Alabama at Brookley Field. Airbus’ interest in Mobile actually goes back much further, to 2005, when the European Aeronautic Defense and Space company (EADS) chose Mobile as the potential building site for a proposed U.S. Air Force aerial refueling tanker. A few months later, Northrop Grumman announced it would partner with EADS to develop the tanker, in competition with Boeing’s KC-46A Pegasus, built on the Boeing 767 platform. EADS originally won the tanker contract, but Boeing protested the award, which eventually led to an admission of flaws in the bidding process by the Air Force. The contract was put up for re-bid, and Boeing eventually won.

Copyright Paul Thompson
Copyright Paul Thompson

Brookley Field was the site of Mobile’s first municipal airport, known as Bates Field. But the Army Air Corps took over the site in 1938 and established it as Brookley Army Air Field. During World War II, Brookley served as a major training site and supply depot, supporting the Southeastern U.S. and Caribbean. Airbus Chairman of the Americas Allan McArtor told us that Brookley was selected for its pre-existing airport, a good runway, ATC tower, and proximity to a deep water port. When asked if labor costs were a factor in choosing Mobile, Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier said, “If we were looking specifically for cheap labor, we would build airplanes in Mexico.”

The vertical stabilizer of MSN 6512, the first A321 to be built in Mobile.
Looking into the Transshipment Hangar, the vertical stabilizer of MSN 6512, the first A321 to be built in Mobile. Copyright Paul Thompson.

On site at the manufacturing facility, we first saw the Transshipment Hangar. This is where the large components are staged, after being offloaded from a ship a few miles away at the Port of Mobile. Prior to being loaded onto a ship, the components (including the wings, vertical stabilizer, horizontal stabilizer, engine pylons and fuselage sections) are shipped from their respective fabrication sites around Europe to Hamburg, Germany.

MSN 6621, an A321 will go to American Airlines around Q2 of 2016.
MSN 6621, an A321 will go to American Airlines around Q2 of 2016. Seen at Station 41 in the Mobile assembly facility. Copyright Paul Thompson.

Airbus spokeswoman Kristi Tucker told us the facility is pretty much to support North American customers, which include Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Spirit, United and Virgin America, but they could go somewhere else, if needed. There are currently two aircraft on the production line, A321s for jetBlue and America Airlines. By 2017, the facility will go to “Rate 4,” or four aircraft per month. Tucker said the facility has the capability to produce up to eight monthly, with very little adjustment. McArtor elaborated on that further, explaining that a second paint shop would be required, along with an expanded flight line at which to park planes undergoing pre-delivery testing. The site sits on 116 acres, with another 116 acres available, should the need arise.

Aerial photo of Airbus' Final Assembly Line at Mobile. Photo courtesy Airbus.
Aerial photo of Airbus’ Final Assembly Line at Mobile. Photo courtesy Airbus.

Airbus Manager of Product Quality Timo Zaremba guided us through our tour of the facilities, at which all three types in the A320 family (A319, A320, and A321) will be built.” We are producing the major components in locations throughout Europe. We have the funny job of fitting all of these major components on an airplane,” he said. The first planes will be built with the current engine option, or CEO. Then in late 2017 or early 2018, a transition will be made to the new engine option, known as the NEO. When walking into the facility, the first station you come upon is Station 41, (pictured above) where the aft fuselage is joined with the forward fuselage. This process takes about 3,000 rivets. “Monuments” such as cabin galleys and lavatories are also installed at this point.

MSN 6512, an A321 for jetBlue in Station 40 at Mobile. Copyright Paul Thompson.
MSN 6512, an A321 for jetBlue in Station 40 at Mobile. Copyright Paul Thompson.

The planes’ next stop is Station 40, where the wings are joined, using a brand new automatic drilling process, yet to be implemented at other Airbus sites. The joining process takes approximately 1,200 additional rivets for each wing, set to an accuracy within one tenth of a millimeter. The landing gears are also installed and tested at Station 40. After this point, the plane is moved on its own wheels.

The first A321 to be produced in Mobile, for jetBlue. Copyright Paul Thompson.
The first A321 to be produced in Mobile, for jetBlue. Copyright Paul Thompson.

Tucker told us that when the announcement was made to build the A320 family in the United States in 2012, Airbus has about 19 percent of the domestic market share for commercial airliners. Now, three years later, they hold about 40 percent of the market. However, Airbus admittedly says that while airlines have expressed excitement to have U.S.-built planes, they can’t verify whether having them built here has directly contributed at an order.

Airbus Mobile Paint Shop. Copyright Paul Thompson.
Airbus Mobile Paint Shop. Copyright Paul Thompson.

The Airbus A320 series of aircraft is the workhorse aircraft for many of the world’s airline fleets. Since its introduction in the 1980s, the aircraft has received over 12,000 orders. Airbus says they currently home the domestic market share lead, when comparing the A320 to the 737-Next Generation, and predicts 4,730 new single-aisle planes will be needed to support U.S. airlines between now and 2035. “We don’t have very many customers here in the United States, but they are some of the biggest airlines,” said Barry Eccleston, President of Airbus Americas. American Airlines is Airbus’ largest customer in the world, having a fleet of A320-family aircraft, as well as A330s. Many of these planes originated with U.S. Airways, prior to the airlines’ merger in 2013. American also inherited orders for the widebody Airbus A350, which first went into service with Qatar Airways in January of this year. American is slated to begin receiving their A350s in 2017.