Ray Conner, president and CEO of commercial airplanes, Boeing, ?tells Khaleej Times Night Editor Suresh Pattali he is ?overwhelmed by demand
Ray Conner’s mission is to sell airplanes — that is hundreds of Boeing airplanes of all sizes. He has built airplanes, sold airplanes and serviced airplanes, capping his 34-year career with Boeing by becoming its president and CEO for commercial airplanes in June this year. The man who lives and breathes aircraft talks to Khaleej Times on what Boeing has up its sleeves.
Q: Emirates airline is ready to put money — an estimated $36 billion — on the proposed 777x. President Tim Clark recently went on record saying that the airline would love to replace the entire 777 fleet with a new variant. How far have your talks with prospective buyers for the 777x reached?
A: The talks are very preliminary at this point. But we’re gathering information from airlines today as to exactly what they are looking for in terms of size. Size is really the most important thing for us, so that we can start to focus our energy around the design characteristics of an aeroplane of a particular size. That’s what we are trying to nail down right now. Once we get that right in terms of the feedback from our customers, then we know what the aeroplane will look like, and then get down to the nuts and bolts of building the airplane.
The 777 is a proven aircraft. If the proposed 777x incorporates most of the new-gen interior and performance features, don’t you think it might take the sheen out of the Dreamliner?
No, it’s a completely different market. When you look at the seat counts, that’s where you start to see the difference. You have a family of the 787 starting with the 787-8. Then you go to a stretched version, the 787-9, which would be 15 per cent longer. Then we would stretch again with a potentially new airplane, the -10, which would be another 15 per cent on top of that, so [that’s] a 30 per cent longer figure than the 787-8 plane.
Here, the 777x will be much bigger than that. So if the -10 is around 323 seats, the 777x will be much larger than that, more like 300 yards, which is about 365 seats in three class configurations. Maybe, even bigger than that. So you might get closer to the 400-seat range. So we always have customers for different models depending on the seat counts.
Would it be right if I qualify the 787 as the ultimate flying machine?
Yes, the 787 is the ultimate flying machine so far from Boeing. It’s a big technological leap. This is a new-generation plane that benefits both the airline and the passenger. The airplane has unmatched fuel efficiency, burning 20 per cent less fuel than its conventional counterparts. It is also a more productive asset for airlines because it takes less maintenance.
Is the Dreamliner meant for long-haul use like the ones most of your present customers are operating?
A good aspect of the 787 is it can do shorter hauls too and still be very efficient. One of the reasons why you have bigger airplanes is that it’s the only way we can make it economical — put lots of seats in them and fly that way. But the operating cost of this airplane is a lot more economical. You can have more seat counts and fly shorter distances, and still be very profitable. And that is one of the great things about the operating cost of this machine.
You have used composite material for fuel efficiency on the 787. Will you consider using similar material in other sought-after models?
It depends on — as we move forward — what exactly we want to do, like things you could do particularly with the wings. Obviously, the composite brings a lot more performance. Composite wings are phenomenal in terms of their characteristics, in terms of performance. And that will be very difficult to move away from; if you’re gonna move away from it, it’ll have to be a move to get something that gives you better performance. The fuselage is also unique. It’s one single-piece round barrel so it takes away lots of the typical joints and panels and those kinds of things. So to what extent we can go in the material use would vary from aeroplane to aeroplane.
How many orders are there now for the 787?
At this point, 838 orders. Middle East customers include Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Saudia, Gulf Air, Royal Jordanian and Oman. The order book is quite big actually. So, yes, we are very excited about it.
There is talk that some Asian carriers are planning to reschedule the delivery programme. Will it impact your project in any way?
No, no. We’ll be fine. We have so much demand, to be honest with you. If we have somebody that does want to move or something like that, we have the ability to move other people there.
Some airline chiefs, including Qatar Airways’ Akbar Al Baker, have talked about the flexibility to switch models or variants. Is that true?
We always have that kind of conversation with customers. What he was talking about was a switch within the family. He has a number of airplanes on order, like the 787. So if he has -8, and then -9 and -10 are available, he may want to switch to any of the variants. So if we are given enough time and we have the capability to do that, we always try to accommodate our customers. That’s what we do. Now, if you are talking about switching from one model to another model, that’s a little bit of a different story. Then it becomes a matter of whether or not I can do it or [if the switch] makes sense.
A couple of months ago, Mr Al Baker was talking about some “material defects” on the 787 GE engine. Then the delivery came soon. Has that matter been sorted out?
Yes. It is a well-known situation in the industry. That was just a one-time occurrence. The situation is under control. GE addressed it right away and, yes, it has been taken care of.
Is the 787-9 under active development?
Yes, it is scheduled to enter service in early 2014. And we have quite a few customers, including Etihad. Air New Zealand is our launch customer.
From : Khalij