Boeing chief Jim McNerney last week added a vague disclaimer when he re-endorsed the 787 global supply chain model, even as new financial guidance shows the company should emerge relatively unscathed from a 15-month delay for the next-generation widebody.

"The global-partnership model of the 787 remains a fundamentally sound strategy. It makes sense to utilise 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," McNerney wrote in an email to employees obtained by Flight International affiliate Flightblogger.

"But we may have gone a little too far, too fast in a couple of areas," he added. "I expect we'll modify our approach somewhat on future programmes - 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."

How the lines will be drawn differently was not immediately clear. Boeing started outsourcing major structural work to suppliers in the 1970s, but dramatically raised the stakes on the 787 programme.

787 rollout
 © Charles Conklin

Six major structural producers based in three countries have design, analysis and certification authority for their section of the aircraft. A supply chain breakdown exacerbated by parts shortages is blamed for the 787 delay.

But McNerney also predicted in a conference call with investors and media that Boeing's overall strategy to broker agreements with worldwide suppliers would essentially remain in place.

"We believe that global leverage is important from a cost and risk mitigation standpoint," he said. "We might draw some lines at different places now that we understand our own capabilities and the capabilities of partners."

Real-time visibility into partner inventories as they assemble components to understand how the aircraft comes together even at tier three and four supplier levels "would have helped us a lot", he added.

Meanwhile, Boeing posted a 38% rise in first quarter net income to $1.2 billion thanks largely to robust performance from commercial airliners, which grew sales 8% to $8.1 billion and operating margin by 2.7 percentage points to 12%.

The airframer delivered 115 aircraft during the quarter, an 8% increase over the 106 aircraft accepted by customers during the first three months of 2007.

Source: Flight International