Boeing production czar says planemaker won't repeat errors

Mon Mar 16, 2015 5:13am EDT
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By Tim Hepher and Alwyn Scott

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) is well-positioned to hit record production targets for its popular 737 jetliner by 2018, having learned from past mistakes, the head of its industrial system told Reuters.

"To the extent that we could accommodate uncertainty and risk, or reduce risk, we are much better postured today than when we have tried this in the past," said Pat Shanahan, who oversees production at the world's biggest planemaker.

Boeing's production lines face a crucial test as the company prepares to lift output of its bestselling jet by 24 percent while simultaneously shifting to a new fuel-saving model, the 737 MAX.

Boeing has not attempted such a production boost and model shift since 1997, when it was forced to stop assembly of its 747 jumbo and delay building a new version of the 737 for several weeks due to parts shortages. Boeing was also distracted by a merger with McDonnell-Douglas at the time.

This time, with zero room for error on the 737, a major cash generator for the company, Boeing is taking a fresh look at the way it builds jets by adding more automation.

"When I think about the mistakes we made back then, we didn't have an integrated plan that included the supply chain," Shanahan said, noting that the company now follows such a plan.

Shanahan, 52, is a troubleshooter credited with turning round the 787 Dreamliner in 2008 after delays also blamed on supply chain problems and a missile defense project.

As senior vice president for airplane programs, he must ensure the 737 makeover goes smoothly, and prepare a production system for the larger 777X, a revamped model of the 777 due to enter service in 2020.   Continued...

A Boeing 737 jetliner is pictured during a tour of the Boeing 737 assembly plant in Renton, Washington February 4, 2014. REUTERS/David Ryder