Corporate learning curve

Source:
This story is sourced from Flight International
Subscribe today »
Designing and building the BBJ has been a new business experience for Boeing

Guy Norris/LOS ANGELES

It's a different animal, says Lee Monson, Boeing Business Jets' vice president sales. In this case, "animal" refers both to the new breed of Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), and the corporate aviation market for which it has been developed.

In one sense, corporate aircraft are not new to Boeing. The company's Model 226 trimotor, delivered as an executive transport to Standard Oil in 1930, was the start of a long line of VIP and corporate versions that extends all the way through to today's 777. What sets the BBJ apart is the dedicated business unit established to develop the aircraft in a joint venture with General Electric (GE), and the steep learning curve that Boeing Business Jets has climbed in getting to know the corporate market.

"It is a dramatically different world," says Monson. "In the past, as the airline market has tapered off, there have been studies of 'one of a kind' type business jet versions of Boeing aircraft. But until this programme was launched, this had never been seen as an independent sort of venture. It went from '...now we've got a couple of aircraft to sell' to a dedicated, stand-alone business with dedicated BBJ field service reps."

Boeing Business Jets was set up in July 1996 as a marketing arrangement in the form of a contract joint venture. Boeing manages day-to-day operations, makes the aircraft and is responsible for sales and marketing with support from GE. The engine maker supplies the powerplant, and both companies are involved in customer support and share costs and revenues.

The joint venture concept was initiated by GE president Jack Welch , who was looking for a new, long-range business jet in 1996. Having turned down the Bombardier Global Express and Gulfstream V, the focus shifted to a conversion of one of the 82 Next Generation 737s the company's leasing arm, GE Capital, then had on order. "Jack just didn't fancy being stuck in an aluminium tube for such a long time and wanted something more spacious," says Boeing Business Jets president Borge Boeskov.

Extending the range

To give the BBJ any chance of meeting the long-range requirements, Boeing combined the fuselage of the 737-700 with the stronger, heavy-gauge wing and beefed-up landing gear of the stretched 737-800. To push range even further, the aircraft was configured with up to nine auxiliary fuel tanks which were designed to fit in the lower cargo hold. The combined wing and belly fuel capacity doubled compared to the standard -700, rising from 20,100litres (5,303 USgal) to 40,480litres. By contrast, the BBJ2, based on the -800, has a slightly reduced maximum fuel capacity of 39,525litres, mainly because only seven auxiliary tanks can be fitted.

The first BBJ rolled out in July 1998, and received US Federal Aviation Administration and European Joint Aviation Authorities certification in October 1998. Large blended winglets, designed by Aviation Partners Boeing of Seattle, were later selected for the BBJ and made standard in September this year after the FAA awarded supplementary type certification (STC).

The winglets, which are 2.4m (7.8ft) tall and weigh around 118kg (260lb), were originally added as distinctive visual add-ons to help differentiate the product for corporate owners. But flight tests showed they were much more than simply an elegant gimmick. They produce significant cruise drag reduction and spin-off performance improvements in terms of payload, climb rate and fuel consumption.

Proof of concept flight tests on a -800, with the requisite wing strength, showed preliminary fuel burn savings of 3.8% on a 5,100km (2,750nm) flight and 3.6% savings on a 1,800km leg. This translated into a design range increase of 230km or an increase in maximum take-off weight of 450kg. Fuel capability limit also increased by 2,720kg and hot-and-high take-off performance was boosted by a total of 1,090kg at Denver in 30°C (110°F) conditions, and by 1,540kg at Mexico. Interestingly, they also showed potential noise reductions of -0.5 to -0.7 EPNdB in take-off cutback capability. These benefits were confirmed and improved upon, with later flight tests on the BBJ itself which began in February 1999.

Retrofits underway

With the completion of test work, the September STC cleared the way for the first BBJ to be retrofitted with the winglets in coming months. Retrofits will be completed at DeCrane Aircraft Systems Integration Group in Delaware, the same company (formerly called PATS) that fits the aircraft's auxiliary fuel tanks. The retrofit programme encompasses the first 15 BBJs currently in service, as well as 30 already delivered to one of seven completion centres in the USA and Europe. New build BBJs, nine more of which are due to be delivered by the end of the year, will also receive winglets at the DeCrane site. Boeing eventually expects to introduce modifications on the Renton production line to allow winglets to be added on site for -800s, and eventually BBJs.

Changes on the production line were also introduced early on to allow all BBJs to be fitted with Rockwell Collins Flight Dynamics head-up-guidance systems (HGS 2000) during final assembly. The HGS, which will be upgraded to the newer HGS 4000 in due course as an optional retrofit, is standard on all BBJs, as is a second HF radio. The only post-"green" delivery option currently offered is NavLink, a datalink system which allows BBJ crews to uplink weather graphics for display on a Smiths Industries flight management computer.

Preparations for the BBJ2 are well advanced, with first delivery of the "green" aircraft to DeCrane set for late February. The longer fuselage requires minor strengthening with a "couple of doublers," says Monson, to handle the additional operating weight associated with the long-range fuel tanks and higher overall take-off weight of 79,015kg. The first will be delivered in late 2001 or the first quarter of 2002. Monson says "significant interest" is being shown in the BBJ2, which could now account for as many as 35% of the overall BBJ market - 10% more than the joint venture originally expected. Most of the interest comes from corporate shuttle operators and owners seeking a replacement for ageing 727-200s.

Completion problems

Boeing Business Jets had little difficulty selling the BBJ, but began experiencing problems almost as soon as the first aircraft left the factory for modification and completion. Some were development issues related to the fuel tanks and their integration with the existing systems on the aircraft, others were potentially more serious problems which revealed the group's unfamiliarity with the corporate business and its unique demands.

Part of the problem, says Monson, was adjusting to the later equipment and configuration selections normal to corporate clients but unheard of in the airline world. Another involved the complex and varying electrical and environmental control interfaces between the lavish new interiors and the standard 737 system outlets. "Some of the completion centres had less problems than others. But for the most part the process is now moving well, and we're seeing the pace pick up," says Monson.

The group appointed Dayton Robinson as completion centre oversight manager to help maintain "contact on a regular basis" with the various centres. Chief among these, and the one with the highest number of completions on its hands is the Raytheon Aircraft site in Waco, Texas. Others include the Jet Center, Santa Barbara, California; Associated Air Center in Dallas, Texas; Ozark Aircraft Services in Rogers, Arkansas; Jet Aviation in Basle, Switzerland and Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg, Germany. Another centre, Green Point of Seattle, is "close to completing its first delivery" says Monson.

Delayed completions, particularly at the Raytheon site, prompted customer questions. "They asked us why we didn't have our own completion centre. We had to tell them that Boeing does the 'cookie cutter' real well, but we are not designed to do things like [completions] ourselves. It would be too expensive."

Apart from appointing Robinson to help troubleshoot issues at the centres, the company has also recruited interior outfitting specialists from within Boeing. "We had to make sure we didn't do things the old Boeing way. We are still working through these issues and we are not 100% where we want to be, but we are a lot closer than we were," says Monson.

Other improvements include the establishment of a BBJ-only spares pool, so operators do not have to wait in line behind airlines for parts. The Gold Card discounted fuel concept and the recent tie-up with Delta Air Lines to help maintenance tracking, are others. The company is also "looking at full-up service centres and affiliating with people who are capable of maintaining the IFE and seats, rather than the aircraft itself," says Monson. The early results appear to be encouraging, and he adds: "Both Bombardier and Gulfstream have published reports about why you should not buy the BBJ. That's good news to us. It means we are being taken seriously and we are definitely a player."