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Veteran troubleshooter takes his place in 787 hot seat

Boeing has installed a veteran crisis manager with a problem-solving style described by former subordinates as "relentless" to fix a 787 programme delayed six months by supply-chain breakdowns.

Pat Shanahan has been appointed to replace Mike Bair as vice-president and general manager of the 787 programme one week after Boeing announced that first delivery would be delayed to at least November 2008. Bair has been shifted to vice-president of business strategy and marketing for Boeing commercial programmes.

Shanahan inherits a programme impaired by shortages of parts and software code and already two months behind on a tight schedule, but with no known design defects and a record order backlog.

It will be a familiar situation for Shanahan, who has compiled a record of shepherding programmes in transition or in crisis. Since the late 1990s, Boeing has installed Shananan in a series of challenging executive assignments, ranging from commercial aircraft and military tiltrotors to missile interceptors. However, with the eyes of the Boeing's airline customers and Wall Street investors focused on the 787's progress, this new task will surely be his most high-pressure challenge.

Shanahan rose to prominence in 2000 when, at the age of 37, he was named vice-president and general manager of the 757 programme. By 2000, orders for the 757 had started to dwindle, and it was Shanahan's job to revamp the production system to keep the line competitive. The solution called for outsourcing fuselage work from Renton to Wichita and installing a moving production line in Renton.

That strategy was expected to recharge commercial interest in the 757-300 and proposed 757-200ERX model, but it proved to be ill-timed. The industry downturn following 9/11 eventually forced Boeing to shut down the 757 line.

Shanahan's career next took an unexpected turn in 2002 with a promotion to vice-president of Boeing's military rotorcraft programmes in Philadelphia and Mesa, Arizona.

The young executive inherited a division reeling with a fleet-wide grounding of the Bell Boeing V-22 and massive cost overruns afflicting the CH-47F and the ill-fated Sikorsky/Boeing RAH-66 Comanche programmes. Shanahan's task was to implement a plan to dramatically modernise the Philadelphia facility. Using his 757 experience as a template, Shanahan outsourced machinery work to Boeing facilities in Georgia and Florida, and opened a new factory for the V-22 featuring a lean assembly system.

In 2004, Shanahan accepted a promotion to vice-president of missile defense programmes, but quickly faced yet another crisis. The Bush administration had pledged to deploy Boeing's ground-based mid-course interceptor system by the end of 2004, but Boeing was unable to deliver. In two embarrassing test failures in late 2004 and early 2005, software glitches prevented Boeing's interceptors from even launching.

Shanahan's challenge was to develop with the Missile Defense Agency an achievable flight test and deployment schedule - and ensure Boeing delivered.

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