- Published on Tuesday, 29 January 2013 00:00
- Written by AP
By A Web design Company
(Second of two parts)
NEW YORK — It had been 13 years since Boeing started development of a new plane, the 777. The company had recently scrapped two other major projects: a larger version of the 747 and the Sonic Cruiser, a plane that would fly close to the speed of sound.
A development team with a knack for assigning new planes code names based on national parks had just the thing: Project Yellowstone. The plane — eventually rechristened the Dreamliner after a naming contest — was unlike anything else previously proposed.
While other planes divert hot air from the engines through internal ducts to power some functions, the 787 uses electricity. Getting rid of that air-duct system is one thing that makes the plane more fuel efficient.
Before a single aircraft was built, the plane was an instant hit, becoming the fastest-selling new jet in history. Advance orders were placed for more than 800 planes. Boeing seemed to be on its way back.
But this was no longer the trailblazing, risk-taking Boeing of a generation earlier. The company had acquired rival McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Many McDonnell Douglas executives held leadership positions in the new company. The joke was that McDonnell Douglas used Boeing’s money to buy Boeing.
It was a tough sales job for Alan Mulally, then head of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division and current CEO of Ford. The only way the board of directors would sign off on the Dreamliner was to spread the risk among a global chain of suppliers. In December 2003, they agreed to take on half of the estimated $10 billion development cost.
The plan backfired as production problems quickly surfaced.
“I saw total chaos. Boeing bit off more than it could chew,” said Larry Caracciolo, an engineer who spent three years managing 787 supplier quality.
First, there were problems with the molding of the new plastics. Then parts made by different suppliers didn’t fit properly. For instance, the nose-and-cockpit section was out of alignment with the rest of the plane, leaving a 0.3-inch gap.
By giving up control of its supply chain, Boeing had lost the ability to oversee each step of production. Problems sometimes weren’t discovered until the parts came together at its Everett, Washington, plant.
Fixes weren’t easy, and cultures among the suppliers often clashed.
“It seemed like the Italians only worked three days a week. They were always on vacation. And the Japanese, they worked six days a week,” said Jack Al-Kahwati, a former Boeing structural weight engineer.
As the project fell further behind schedule, pressure mounted. It became increasingly clear that delivery deadlines wouldn’t be met.
Each success, no matter how small, was celebrated. The first delivery of a new part or the government certification of an engine would lead to a gathering in one of the engineering building atriums. Banners were hung and commemorative cards — like baseball cards — or coins were handed out.
Those working on the plane brought home a constant stream of trinkets: hats, Frisbees, 787 M&Ms, travel mugs, plane-shaped chocolates, laser pointers and lapel pins. Many of the items can now be found for sale on eBay.