Boeing has expected too much from major outsourcing partners and will take much detailed design work and some major production back in-house to avoid in future the troubles that have plagued its long-delayed 787 programme.

And, on a company podcast, vice-president for engineering Mike Denton apologised to his engineering employees for working "so many hours of overtime to get the [787] programme recovered".

Denton's remarks were aimed at the Boeing members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), a union now entering the final month of negotiations on a new labour contract.

But Denton's statements also reflect Boeing management's broad disillusionment with the 787's once-heralded production system that relied on six major partners in three countries to make vast financial, engineering and production contributions. "Some of the partners have struggled to do a good job of the engineering for those parts," he said.

 © Boeing

For its part, Boeing mistakenly judged that its partners were capable of participating beyond build-to-print work, and then compounded that error by failing to track their progress. "Our engineers and production workers are basically correcting the problems that should have never come to us in the first place," Denton said, adding that the problems are the result of the partners' work not being finished.

Boeing is now negotiating with those partners to take back some of the detailed design work on the 787-9, he said, but did not elaborate.

Boeing executives will apply lessons learned from the 787-8 experience on the next commercial aircraft.

"We will probably do more of the design and even some of the major production for the next new airplanes ourselves as opposed to having it all out with the partners," Denton said. "We see that as building on lessons of the 787, taking advantage of the parts that were really good, but doing some course corrections so that we can not relive some of the harder lessons that we have experienced recently."

Boeing has reached a tentative settlement with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, but the nearly eight-week-old strike will continue until union members vote on the contract on 1 November.

Meanwhile, SPEEA's engineering workforce entered tense main table discussions with Boeing on 28 November in Seattle. Denton has acknowledged that Boeing faces "challenges" in adapting to the negotiating style of SPEEA's new executive director Ray Goforth.

Boeing was surprised by SPEEA's demands to conduct all negotiations in the month-long main table sessions, rather than at the subcommittee level.

"That's new to us. We're willing certainly to work with them to make that happen. Obviously we have some concerns about whether there's enough time to get it all done at main table or not," Denton said.

SPEEA, however, appears still far part with Boeing management on the issues. A mid-afternoon electronic message by Goforth on 30 October read: "SPEEA ends today's meeting early citing Boeing intransigence."

Source: Flight International