Boeing may junk worldwide assembly for next jet; Ousted 787 chief talks about lessons learned - Single supersite of factories a future option; maybe not here

The recently ousted head of the 787 Dreamliner program said Wednesday that Boeing may build its next plane differently axing the globe-spanning supply chain that has caused its recent problems and concentrating major partner factories at a single...


The recently ousted head of the 787 Dreamliner program said Wednesday that Boeing may build its next plane differently axing the globe-spanning supply chain that has caused its recent problems and concentrating major partner factories at a single manufacturing supersite.

But that big prize won't necessarily be in Washington state, said Boeing vice president Mike Bair.

"The right way to do this would be to have all those big parts across the street so you could just roll them in," Bair told an audience of Snohomish County business people and politicians. "We'll see on the next airplane programs whether we can accomplish something like that."

His audience reacted with warm smiles. It sounded like great news for Washington state.

"Or someplace else," Bair elaborated in an interview afterward, puncturing the illusion. "It doesn't necessarily have to be here."

As for the global network of suppliers working on the now-delayed 787, Bair had some blunt words: "Some of these guys we won't use again."

And he said the company may return to its earlier practice of supplying complete designs to some major suppliers, rather than asking them to do design work as it did on the pioneering, composite-plastic Dreamliner.

Just four years after the Legislature passed a blowout tax-incentive package to have the 787 built here, Bair's remarks set the stage for another competition among states within the next few years to build the replacement for the Renton-built 737 narrow-body jet.

But the stakes could be even bigger, with a raft of supplier plants up for grabs along with Boeing's assembly plant.

Deborah Knutson, president of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council (EDC), said Bair's comments are as significant as those made by former Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Alan Mulally in a 2003 speech when he famously summarized the state's competitiveness with: "We suck."

"I cannot imagine that the 737 replacement will automatically come here," Knutson said. "From everything I've heard, we'll need to work for it."

Two weeks ago, after the announcement of a costly six-month delay in delivery of the Dreamliner, Bair was replaced as 787 chief and shifted to a more strategic but less critical role at the commercial-airplanes unit: head of business strategy and marketing.

Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney has acknowledged that some of the first large 787 structures to arrive in Everett for final assembly were incomplete and that work done by some of the major suppliers was inadequately documented.

Tuesday in Everett, Bair kept a pre-arranged date to give a breakfast address at the quarterly meeting of the Snohomish County EDC.

His speech was both reflective and forward-looking, looking back to what went wrong on the 787 and ahead to future programs.

Bair said Boeing estimated that some 150,000 to 200,000 people around the world were working on the 787 program at its peak, a year or so ago.

He said the problems in completing the first airplane resulted from the production system in Everett being overwhelmed with parts work that suppliers should have done.

"That whole production system is built for 1,200 pieces. ... Everything about it was designed for 1,200 parts," he said. "We threw 30,000 at it."

Bair said some of the major airframe partners on the Dreamliner have performed so poorly that Boeing likely won't use them on future programs.

He also said some engineering design work had to be pulled back inside Boeing when the partners couldn't deliver.

"Some of them proved incapable of doing it," Bair said. In the interview after his speech, he expressed frustration that some partners seemed "unwilling, for whatever reason."

"They just didn't do what we thought they could do," Bair said. "Who knows why?"

Boeing's traditional model was to provide designs for suppliers to follow a system it called "build-to-print."

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