Rollout to be One for the ages

June 19, 2007

If God is considering a Second Coming soon, maybe she should tune in to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner rollout ceremony to borrow a few ideas about staging, drama and worldwide impact.

Indeed, short of an 8.0 earthquake, an eruption of Mount Rainier or the Mariners winning the World Series, Boeing's debut of its best-selling, superefficient jetliner won't be upstaged anytime soon by a Pacific Northwest event.

The July 8 ceremony, or "premiere," as Boeing prefers to call it, literally will have a cast of thousands: 15,000 in the Everett factory where the 787 is being built; 50,000 at Qwest Field, where other Boeing employees and retirees will watch the events unfold on giant screens; 20,000 in Wichita, Kan., where one of Boeing's major subcontractors, Spirit Aerospace, will be connected by satellite at the company's annual picnic; and at factories, racetracks and public venues large and small in South Carolina, Japan, Italy, England, Australia and elsewhere around the world.

With the ceremonies publicly available on DirecTV and Dish Network in North America, and two dozen other satellite systems around the world, the potential audience for the ceremony is 100 million people, said the rollout's director, Yvonne Leach.

Boeing has hired former "NBC Nightly News" anchorman Tom Brokaw to emcee the ceremonies, and commissioned Vancouver Symphony musicians and native performance artists worldwide to record the rollout's theme songs.

Even the event's date, 7-8-07 in numeric shorthand, seems custom-made for the occasion of the public debut of the first example of what Boeing claims is a game-changing aircraft.

The plane has been crucial in shifting the momentum of the aircraft industry from Airbus, which had passed Boeing four years ago as the world's largest commercial maker, back to Boeing, which won the order race last year on the strength of 787s orders.

Of course, Airbus has played a role in its own decline, failing to deliver its superjumbo A380 on time and redesigning its response to the 787, the A350XWB three times. Now the first A350XWB is expected to enter commercial service in 2013, five years after the 787. The A350XWB has won 13 firm orders, while Boeing's 787 order total now exceeds 600.

So Boeing is anxious to cluck about the 787 with a grand coming-out party and almost all of the most powerful and influential people in the airline and aviation business in attendance in Everett. The company, for instance, has invited executives from all of its 787 customers.

Flight attendants from each of the 787 airlines will play a role in the ceremony. About 50 aviation industry financial analysts from around the world will attend along with 250 aviation journalists from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Asia.

Boeing has reserved substantial blocks of rooms in five Seattle hotels for its guests, and it plans briefings, tours and cocktail parities throughout the pre-ceremony days for those attending.

"This is the first new-plane rollout since the 777 13 years ago, so an occasion like this deserves a proper celebration," Leach said.

Serious planning for the event began more than a year ago, when Leach polled all the Boeing departments involved about their expectations for the rollout ceremonies.

Ultimately, Leach would have 13 managers under her supervision handling different aspects of the event, from press relations to employee and retiree access.

The event plan that emerged from those queries was one that reflected not only how the 787 is different from the aircraft that proceeded it, but also how the system Boeing uses to design and build the aircraft is different, Leach said.

Not only is the 787 the first commercial aircraft largely built of composite material, it's also the first commercial aircraft that relies heavily on Boeing's partners around the world to design and build large pieces of the aircraft. Under Boeing's new plan, the company handles the overall conception and integration of the design, as well as marketing the aircraft. But Boeing's partners, including Spirit in Wichita; Vought in Charleston, S.C.; Alenia in Italy; and Fuji, Mitsubishi and Suzuki in Japan, bear a large share of the design and financial responsibility for their parts of the plane.

Boeing wanted the ceremony to accurately reflect the contributions that Boeing workers and its partners around the globe made in producing the first plane, Leach said.

In midsummer last year, Boeing sought proposals from multimedia production companies to help stage and distribute the event. Fremont's TPN emerged the winner in that competition. TPN is an 18-year-old, 80-employee company that specializes in producing big corporate events. TPN has worked with Boeing for 14 years staging big events, including rollouts of derivative models of the 777 and 737 and big gatherings in which Boeing announced new models. Other TPN clients include Microsoft, Amazon and JCB.

TPN had worked with Boeing on the 787 from the beginning and produced a worldwide 787 roadshow that took the 787 story to 20 countries around the world.

While aircraft technology has advanced greatly since the 777 debuted in 1994, so have presentation and communication capabilities, Leach said. The debut will spotlight both those advanced capabilities.

TPN CEO John Vadino said the roadshow experience affirmed TPN's belief that the 787 debut had to be carefully scripted, directed and produced to appeal to audiences in other countries.

"We have a truly global audience. We found that the presentation will be much more appealing if we customize it to local tastes," Vadino said.

As a result, the ceremonies will be broadcast and narrated in nine languages. The video from the 10 cameras covering the event will be fed to nine directors stationed outside the Everett plant who each will produce native language coverage for worldwide distribution.

Vadino said TPN is bringing in those directors from outside the U.S. because it believes the ceremonies will get the widest audience if they're presented in each area's native tongue and put together in familiar styles by directors accustomed to the conventions of video production in other areas of the world.

The different versions will be available on the Web and through a constellation of satellites throughout the world.

The ceremony will include remote live feeds from other 787 gatherings around the world to include workers in other countries who've contributed to the 787 project.

In a traditional rollout, the finale comes when the doors of the plant rumble aside, and the new plane inside rolls out for public viewing. Boeing abandoned that model years ago, putting the audience inside the plant and opening the plant doors to reveal the plane outside. The Northwest's unpredictable weather and the need for a controlled environment to show the videos and play the theme music make holding the ceremony inside a virtual necessity.

As lighting, video and production technology have advanced, so has the quality of the rollout ceremonies. The 787 rollout will feature huge video screens, some mounted on the inside of the hangar doors, extensive rock show-style lighting and innovations such as small remote projectors that can literally paint the stage and walls with images.

And for the first time, all of the 15,000 guests will be seated in the last two production positions in the vast 787 production hall. In traditional Boeing events, a cadre of customers, suppliers and Boeing executives are seated with Boeing workers standing behind.

Though Leach and Vadino won't reveal the exact details of the presentation, if it follows the pattern of most Boeing presentations, it will be heavily weighted toward workers, with videos of engineers, technicians and machinists from around the world talking about their roles in the project. Of course, the plane and its customers will play a role, with video presentations featuring airline executives and crew members and ultimately the 787 itself.

The whole event will get a dress rehearsal the day before, with the participants and speakers timing their presentations and directors and technical people testing the lighting, sound and satellite connections.

Don't expect any surprise celebrity appearances, Leach said. On 7-8-07, the 787 will be the star.

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John Gillie: 253-597-8663

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SIDEBAR: 787 Premiere Facts

When: Sunday, July 8 (7-8-07)

Where: Boeing Everett plant

When: 3:30 p.m.

Everett audience: 15,000 787 workers, airline executives, analysts and aviation journalists are expected to attend.

Hotels: Boeing has booked five to handle out-of-town and international guests.

Live broadcasts: Qwest Field and 80 other venues around the world

Satellite broadcasts: In the U.S., DirecTV channel 576, DishNetwork channel 9691; 28 other satellites around the world

On the Net: At

Potential audience: 100 million

Versions of the broadcast: Nine directors will custom-produce versions in nine languages.

Production company: TPN of Seattle's Fremont district

Emcee: Tom Brokaw, former "NBC Nightly News" anchor

Music: Special 787 theme music

Composer: Brian Gibson, Vancouver composer and conductor

Musicians: Vancouver Symphony musicians

Cost: Boeing won't say.

Notes: Boeing originally planned the rollout for late June, but a Boeing employee four months ago suggested July 8, an idea that was quickly adopted because of its connection to the Dreamliner, 787.

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