Boeing has been on the ropes many times

March 05, 2022

Boeing the US aerospace giant is certainly on the ropes battling 787 production issues as well as 777X certification problems but it should look back in history to get perspective.

It has been on the ropes many times before with near-death knockout blows but that is when the company has responded best and fought back to emerge stronger than ever.

Flashback to 1955 when United Airlines placed its order for 30 DC-8s which gave Douglas a 55 to 20 lead over the 707. It was facing a wipe-out but widened the cabin to match and exceed the DC-8’s and American Airlines came on board. The rest is history.

Bill Allen
Boeing President Bill Allen left with C.R. Smith President of American Airlines (next from left) with Wellwood Beall, SVP Engineering for Boeing seated in the five-across 707 mockup. The person at extreme right is unknown. C.R. Smith’s demand for six across would be agreed and the 707 was widened and took off. Colorized by Benoit Vienne

Just 15 years later in 1970 it was facing another disaster with McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed’s trijets sweeping the market, the SST canceled, and it’s 747 and 737 stumbling with only a trickle of orders.

Roll out of the DC-10 in 1970. Key customers like American had ordered just 6 747s and up to 50 DC-10s.

Fifty thousand workers were laid off which prompted this sign below to be erected.

Yet only a few years later, in 1978, Boeing bounced back to launch the very successful 757 and 767 below. With the 767 it was able to win back key US giants such as American, United, TWA, and Delta Air Lines.

Move on another 10 years and McDonnell Douglas and Airbus cleaned up the market with their 300-seat MD-11 and A340 designs leaving almost no room for a third competitor.

But again it wiped the floor by going clean sheet and efficient with a giant twin, the 777.

Roll out of the 777 in 1994. Credit Geoffrey Thomas

In fact, the 777 forced McDonnel Douglas to merge with Boeing. As one MDC chief engineer told management in a memo that even an improved version of the MD-11, the MD-11X with a new wing, was “tragically uncompetitive against the 777-200ER”, let alone later variants like the 777-300ER.

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Scorecard? 777 all variants 2,069, MD-11, 200 and Airbus A340 all variants, 377.

Next Boeing was chastised for not matching the Airbus A380 which was going to replace the 747, with doom forecast by many scribes and analysts. The last A380 has been delivered and Boeing will deliver its final 747 in 2022.

In fact, while Airbus built 251 A380s, it would sell another 270 747s, mostly a new variant the 747-8.

It held its nerve and came up with innovation and technology in the form of the 787 which upended the market.

Certainly, under pressure from former McDonnell senior management– who are no longer with Boeing – the production process was fouled up and thus costs blew out but the design is sound – very sound.

Now it has to be bold and call on its founders for inspiration.

Bill Boeing’s great words say it all: “Our job is to keep everlastingly at research and experiment, to adapt our laboratories to production as soon as practicable, to let no new improvement in flying and flying equipment pass us by.”

Mr. Boeing’s good friend and competitor Donald Douglas, whose company would eventually merge with Boeing said: “Dream no small dream it lacks magic – dream large, and make the dream real.”

That dream now is the twin-aisle 797 – it has magic, it has space, it has real sizzle and passengers will flock to it in droves, particularly when they will be demanding space as never before in the post COVID world.

No aircraft will be able to compete with it – none!

It will fly 8 to 10 hours non-stop with a full load and for that length of flight, a single-aisle in a typical economy configuration is a nightmare.

The configuration would be 2-2-2 or 2-3-2 for low-cost/charter operators similar to the mockup below shown in 1991 at the Paris Air Show.

Boeing 797

A single-aisle challenge to the Airbus A321 and A321XLR is an utter waste of money unless you could cut fuel consumption per passenger by 40 plus percent – which you cannot.

Airline chiefs such as Qantas’s Alan Joyce said Boeing would be “mad not to build it.”

Be bold Boeing!