Boeing: Less Design Outsourcing On New Planes

Next new Boeing airplanes will be designed, developed and produced with less reliance on outsourcing than the long-delayed 787 passenger jet, a key executive says.

SEATTLE (AP) -- The next new Boeing Co. airplanes will be designed, developed and produced with less reliance on outsourcing than the long-delayed 787 passenger jet, a key executive says.

Even the next derivative of the 787 will rely more on in-house design, said Michael J. Denton, vice president of engineering and the top technical executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

In an audio blog posted on a Boeing Web site for the company' s contract talks with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, Denton gave Boeing's most complete statement to date on what will be done to avoid a recurrence of the problems plaguing the 787.

Negotiations began Wednesday with the union representing Boeing engineers, scientists and technical workers.

The first 787 delivery is currently set for next August and could be further delayed by the strike by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers that began Sept. 6. The walkout by Boeing's commercial aircraft production workers could end Saturday with a ratification vote on a tentative agreement supported by union leaders. Outsourcing was the thorniest issue in the dispute.

SPEEA and the Machinists say that if the 787 had been designed and built in-house like previous Boeing planes, it would have been out the hangar door by now.

Denton said Boeing, faced with prohibitive costs for developing the all-composite 787, got subcontractors to share in the initial investment and outsourced much of the design work, partly to avoid hiring a raft of engineers who would then have to be laid off for lack of other work after the plane was ready for full-scale production.

For example, Boeing sent Mitsubishi a general concept, shape and technical requirements for the wings, leaving the internal structure and other details to be designed by the Japanese company. The only major component of the 787 done in-house in the Seattle area was the tail fin.

In many cases, "our assessment of the partners' capability to do that design work ... was higher than their capability," Denton said.

Compounding the problem, "we were late in discovering that (some of) the partners were really struggling," he said. "Our engineers and production workers are basically correcting problems that should never have come to us."

Changes already are being made in work on the 787-9, a longer version of the 787-8, the initial model, Denton said.

"We will do more of the detailed design on the 787-9 than we did on the dash-8," Denton said. "We're working out those details with some of our affected partners now."

In the future, Boeing hopes to stick with the "partner model" for financing.

"However, we will probably do more of the design and even some of the major production for the next airplane ourselves as opposed to having it all out with the partners," Denton said.

Ray Goforth, SPEEA executive director, told The Seattle Times that Denton's comments were "a helpful sign that the company is addressing the concerns raised by the technical work force."

SPEEA's two contracts expire Dec. 1. One covers about 14,200 scientists, engineers and other professionals with average salaries of $82,666 and the other covers nearly 6,700 manual writers, technicians and other hourly workers paid an average of $68,157. About 550 are in Utah, California and Oregon and the rest are in the Seattle area.

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