FARNBOROUGH: Boeing boasts of battle-hardened supply chain

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Boeing looks ahead to building three new aircraft derivatives in the second half of this decade with a supply chain that is battle-hardened by the difficulties experienced by the 787 and 747-8.

"We'll have the Arnold Schwarzenegger of supply chains," says Pat Shanahan, senior vice-president and general manager of airplane programmes for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Though Shanahan did not immediately clarify if he meant Schwarzenegger's role as the former governor of California or champion body-builder-turned-Hollywood actor, his meaning was soon clear enough.

In 2004, Boeing started forming an entirely new supply chain to build the composite materials and electronic systems of the 787, and learned a lot of lessons in the process. Now as Boeing looks to launch the 787-10X and 777X, perhaps by the end of the year, as well as complete the design of the 737 Max

"You think about how new these supply chains are," he says. "Go back a few years. No one was building [large] composite airplanes. This is one of the biggest, most complicated supply chains in the world. Give it 10 years. I mean, Arnold [started out as] a skinny little kid, you know."

Ray Conner, newly-appointed president and chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, adds: "We are out there every day working with [our suppliers]. If we see issues we address them, but in the most part the supply chain has been performing quite well."

Shanahan also clarified that his role as the lead for designing and building commercial airplanes will continue even after the departure of Jim Albaugh, who was replaced on 26 June by Conner.

That is part of the plan to maintain continuity on the team that has endured the struggles and lessons of delivering the 787 and 747-8, which were delivered years late and over-budget.

"The timing couldn't be better, people coming off of implanting new technology, maturing new technology and ramping up a production system, and doing a whole series of derivatives," Shanahan says. "If anything for us this is one of the best times to be doing product development work."