Boeing to cut 200 to 300 from flight test unit

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Boeing is to reduce numbers at its flight test unit by 200-300, despite almost unprecedented upcoming demand for flight test resources.

The cuts will affect the Flight Operations Test and Validation Team (FOT&V) responsible for laboratory and flight test operations in support of validation and certification of Boeing commercial and defence products.

The move to scale down the flight test unit is part of plans to cut numbers by 10,000 company-wide, with the commercial airplane unit losing 4,500 employees. The planned layoffs were announced internally this summer, but Boeing says that 60-day layoff notices have yet to be distributed to the flight test unit.

The airframer adds that it is closely managing the reduction to avoid any disruption to the flight test schedules for the 747-8 or 787 programmes, emphasising that it does not expect any such disruption. Reductions will be focused primarily in the overhead functions, limiting the impact on staff working directly with the aircraft, according to Boeing.

The FOT&V team currently employs a staff of 3,500, comprising engineers, pilots, mechanics and technicians, and is responsible Boeing Commercial Airplanes; flight test operations. On 18 December it will be integrated into Test & Evaluations, which is part of Boeing's Engineering, Operations & Technology (EO&T) organisation. The Test & Evaluations unit will then become responsible for both commercial and defence flight testing. It will have 8,000 employees following the consolidation.

In an 8 October message to 747-8 programme employees, Dennis O'Donoghue, vice president of Boeing test & evaluation, and Mo Yahyavi, 747 vice-president and general manager, said that the 787 and 747-8 flight test programmes would be de-coupled as there was not sufficient capacity available at the company's Puget Sound airport locations to support concurrent certification programmes there.

Instead, the 747-8 will conduct initial airworthiness testing at Moses Lake, Washington, and then complete the remainder of the flight test programme at Palmdale, California. Boeing says that the plan to conduct simultaneous flight test programmes for the 787 and 747-8 has not caused it to reconsider the decision to reduce FOT&V staffing.

Boeing has not run large-scale concurrent commercial flight test programmes since 1982, when the 767 and 757 were being certified.

The airframer revamped its flight test methodology in 2008 to consolidate independent ad hoc units assigned to individual test aircraft, in a bid to more effectively manage maintenance and support operations. The changes were initiated to support the flight test programme for the 787, but first came into operation in July 2008 with the 777F certification campaign.