Boeing's production recovery plan appears to be on track following the roll-out at Renton on 9 March of the first two Next Generation 737s, built at the record production rate of 24 a month.

Added to the company's five-a-month rate for the 757 and the dwindling three-a-month rate planned for the "Classic" 737, the increased production of Next Generation 737s brings Renton's output to 32 a month. This is expected to see it achieve 56% of the commercial group's total output of 620 aircraft for 1999.

The increase means that Boeing will be able to hit its target of delivering 276 Next Generation 737s in 1999, compared to 165 last year. The new 737 models alone represent about 45% of the company's total planned commercial production for 1999.

"Thirty-two aircraft a month is pretty phenomenal," says Dennis Vezzetti, director of operations for Renton. "This means we have got a lot of production health and means we are back to the way we are used to building aircraft."

Vezzetti and Renton vice-president Jim Jamieson have orchestrated the turnaround since Vezzetti was appointed at the height of Boeing's production crisis in May.

Revised production practices, tighter discipline and a firm hold on costs have reduced the number of jobs behind schedule on the Next Generation line from 10,000 in May to "around 500" now, according to Vezzetti.

The problems also affected the 737 Classic lines, where more than 4,000 jobs were behind schedule at the height of the trouble, and are now 220 behind. The 757 is also down dramatically, and its relatively high arrears tally of 800 is partly due to the initial production of the first batch of -300 versions.

Overtime, which led to many of the cost overruns and subsequent losses on the Next Generation in 1998, is also significantly down.

Lean manufacturing initiatives, which were put on hold in many areas until the crisis was over, will be introduced throughout Renton, says Vezzetti. He is confident that, thanks to the improvements in place, plus the lean initiative, Boeing will be able to keep costs down while the model mix continues to fluctuate.

Major changes coming up in late 1999 and early 2000 include the final phasing-out of the 737 Classic line and the introduction of the 737-700C Combi and 737-900 to the line. This is in addition to the ramp-up of 757-300 production, which will peak in 2000.

• Boeing will cut up to 6,700 more jobs than expected by the end of this year because of reduced overtime and other production improvements, says the company. Total job cuts by the end of 1999 could be as high as 38,000.

Source: Flight International