Reshuffle and engineer shortage fail to dent Boeing confidence on 747-8

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Boeing remains confident that the 747-8 Intercontinental programme will reach the firm configuration milestone in November despite a management reshuffle and an engineer shortage caused by the 787 delay.

In September, Boeing quietly shifted 747/747-8 programme vice-president Dan Mooney to lead the regulatory affairs office for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, replacing Chet Ekstrand, who will retire in April.

Mooney, whose transfer to the regulatory affairs office has only just become public, has been replaced by Ross Bogue, formerly vice-president and general manager of the Everett site, where the aircraft is built.

Market analysts are voicing increased scepticism that Boeing can meet its two biggest commitments in 2009: delivering the 747-8 Freighter on schedule late in the year while dramatically escalating production on the 787.

Delivery of the 747-8I passenger version is scheduled to follow in 2010. The 777F freighter is also due to enter service next year.

"There has been some pressure, and we've had to scramble a little bit, but, by and large, I believe we've got the work done," says Jim McNerney, Boeing chief executive.

With first delivery of the 787 pushed back from May 2008 to late 2009, Boeing's original production ramp has been tilted severely off balance. From delivering about 40 in 2008 and about 70 in 2009, Boeing now plans to assemble only "a handful" in the first year and more than 100 in the second year, McNerney says.

Boeing's suppliers are working at full speed as if the ramp-up remains unchanged.

"Suppliers like us are continuing to build and shift [resources]," says Marshall Larsen, Goodrich chief executive.

The 787 delay also clouds the delivery schedule for the 747-8F, in particular. The delay means six fewer months of flight-test data on the common GEnx engine, which differs on the 747-8 only by incorporating a bleed-air system.

But McNerney also dismisses concerns that the 747-8 schedule will be damaged by the need to keep more engineers working longer on the 787. The 747-8 programme has filled vacant slots by pilfering from other Boeing programmes and by hiring external contractors.

"There are obviously engineering resources that have shown up late on the [747]-8, but we found ways to work around that by accessing engineering throughout the company and external resources," McNerney says.