Programme will open door for manufacturer to launch new type of supplier relationships

Boeing will use the 7E7 programme to re-invent the structure of its supplier partnerships as it begins detailed discussions with potential vendors for the new airliner, dubbed the Dreamliner.

The US manufacturer plans to begin 7E7 deliveries in 2008, and aims to present the business case for the multi-billion dollar programme to Boeing's board by the end of the year to enable a launch next year. It is evaluating methods of structuring agreements with US and international suppliers for shares in the programme.

"When we finalise the structure of the programme, it will be very different from how we've done it before," says Mike Bair, senior vice-president for the 7E7 programme. Boeing chief executive Alan Mulally says that one idea that has not been ruled out is the creation of a "7E7 equity team" that could enable suppliers to purchase shareholdings in a special purpose company set up to build the aircraft. "Our global partners will be even more focused on this programme," says Mulally, adding that tie-ups with suppliers will include anything from "the equity type to the more normal".

Earlier this month, Boeing decided that it would adopt composite materials, rather than advanced alloys, for the 7E7's primary fuselage and wing structures (Flight International, 17-23 June). Bair says it has now downselected five structures partners - Alenia of Italy, Vought of the USA and Fuji, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan - with which it is beginning detailed discussions.

The selection of the systems team, from over 20 candidates, is not yet completed, says Bair, who adds: "We will downselect to a couple of lead systems partners by August/ September."

As part of the clean sheet approach to the new airliner, Boeing is rethinking its entire production process. It will adopt the "light assembly" approach used by Airbus, which transfers the production emphasis from the final assembly line to the sub-assembly builders. Bair says he envisages that 7E7 production will involve "relatively few large, well-equipped subassemblies" being delivered to the final assembly line for mating. "We are looking at an assembly line employing 800-1,200 employees, rather than the 48,000 today," he says.

Source: Flight International