From the Boeing Cockpit

A letter from the aircraft maker's boss claims further progress on the Dreamliner 787, due to be completed this year

Jim McNerney

Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer

This past week I visited the 787 final assembly line to check in with the team again and see the progress being made as the first 787s come together. I walked away encouraged by the strides that the team has made in completing traveled work and unexpected rework on Airplane #1 and the two structural test airplanes. Airplane #2, and the sections of Airplane #3 that recently arrived, demonstrate that the condition of the assemblies built by our structural partners is improving noticeably with each successive unit. And that is vitally important for getting us back to where we are doing only the work we originally planned to do in our own factory.

During the visit, I could feel the energy and enthusiasm of the Boeing people working on the airplanes—and there were a lot more of them than there were on my visit just a few weeks ago. That's a key indicator that the bottlenecks that stalled our progress are beginning to be removed.

As 787 program leader Pat Shanahan has said, it is now a matter of burning through the work that will get us to the key milestones we have set for the remainder of the year—starting with "power on" in June.

Now for the Execution

To me, two themes have emerged from the 787 at this early stage in its life. One centers around innovation; the other around execution. We have gotten the innovation piece of it right (notwithstanding the ever-present potential for unknowns). The execution piece—with specific regard to the business model and our oversight of the supply chain—has been much more of a challenge, and has produced a series of lessons-learned which we will collect and apply across the enterprise.

Fundamental, game-changing innovation like that we're pursuing on the 787 usually has a "bleeding-edge" quality to it—meaning it goes beyond "leading edge" into a realm where both the risks and the potential returns are high. In the case of the 787, our delivering on the innovation has given us a roughly five-year lead on the competition. And because of that gap, we have a little more time than we otherwise would to get it right. However, our struggle to execute has come at a price, not the least of which is the impact to our customer relationships.

The global-partnership model of the 787 remains a fundamentally sound strategy. It makes sense to utilize technology and technical talent from around the world. It makes sense to be involved with the industrial bases of countries that also support big customers of ours. But we may have gone a little too far, too fast in a couple of areas. I expect we'll modify our approach somewhat on future programs—possibly drawing the lines in different places with regard to what we ask our partners to do, but also sharpening our tools for overseeing overall supply chain activities.

That brings us back to where we are today. The simple reality is that it's time to get it done—and done right. The revised 787 plan—which Scott Carson and Pat Shanahan outlined on Apr. 9—reduces schedule risk and lays out a more gradual ramp-up to full-rate production. It is an achievable, high confidence plan. We've taken a more conservative approach to setting our milestones, based on our experience to date and the idea that being wrong yet again would be more of a burden to our customers than taking a little more time to get it right.

The 787 is going to be a great airplane. The fundamentals on the program are improving steadily, and the right team is in place to do the job. I expect them to deliver, and I believe they will.

And speaking of delivering, we all need to deliver—to keep executing well and consistently on our own work, and improving our collective productivity. We have a huge backlog and more than 200 programs in the company; the 787 is simply one of the most visible. In addressing the 787 program's needs, we cannot let any of our other programs suffer or slip. We all have a job to do, and I'm asking you to keep doing yours to the best of your ability; keep finding ways to improve; and help keep Boeing on the right track.

Thank you.


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