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No slowdown issued to supply chain: Boeing

Keywords: Tags  Boeing, aerospace, Boeing 787, Boeing 777, aluminum, lithium-ion batteries, titanium, Jim McNerney Frank Haflich


LOS ANGELES — Despite the lithium-ion battery failures that have grounded most of Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliners, the company has not issued any production slowdown orders to its supply chain, the aerospace giant’s top executive said this week.

Jim McNerney, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based Boeing, said the company has given its suppliers and subcontractors "no instructions to slow down" due to the battery problems, which are now the subject of a federal investigation. Boeing is "making progress" in determining the reasons for the battery problems and expressed confidence the probe will "identify the root cause of these incidents," he said during a conference call to discuss fourth-quarter 2012 earnings.

"Let’s keep building airplanes, and then let’s ramp up as we planned," McNerney said the company has told its subcontractors and suppliers. Boeing moved the much-delayed aircraft’s build rate up to five per month last year, and McNerney said the company would not alter its goal of reaching 10 per month by the end of 2013.

McNerney also noted that it is "likely" that a composite wing will replace the current aluminum wing on the so-called 777X, the next version of its largest, most established twin-aisle airliner, the 777. While he agreed that a new wing as well as new engines for the 777 represent a "significant amount of work" for a derivative model of an existing program, he stressed that this would be the company’s third or fourth generation of composite airfoils.

"The advantage we have in using composites for airfoils and aerospace applications is one thing I don’t want to give up on," he said.

The 777 is composed of 12 percent composites and 50 percent aluminum by weight, compared with the 50 percent and 20 percent, respectively, on the more recent 787, Boeing said.

Greater composite use generally goes hand in hand with higher titanium use because aluminum isn’t considered compatible with composites in many applications. Boeing says the current 777 has an upper wing skin and stringers made from 7055 aluminum alloy, which features greater compression strength than traditional alloys, resulting in weight savings and improved resistance to corrosion and fatigue.

In the three months ended Dec. 31, Boeing posted net income of $978 million, down 29.5 percent from the year-prior quarter, on a 14-percent increase in revenues to $22.3 billion in the same comparison. Its full-year income fell to $3.9 billion, down 2.9 percent from 2011, on an 18.9-percent increase in revenue to $81.7 billion vs. $68.74 billion in 2011.


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