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Mon, Jan 31, 2005

What's So Great About Eight?

Why Boeing Really Changed The 7E7 To 787

By ANN Senior Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien

The Boeing suits will tell you that the 787 Dreamliner's nomenclature change was all about Boeing tradition. Tradition, from the company that told engineers in Seattle "move to Long Beach or you're fired?" The airplane company that moved its headquarters to a city that doesn't even have a decent airport, or a clue about how to operate one if they did? The outfit that has consolidated a hundred years of American aviation know-how, in order to get beaten like Mike Tyson's ex by a ponderous European government operation, Airbus?

And as traditions go, it looks like they have now used all the medial numbers except nine -- meaning the management of Boeing thinks the old firm might have one more plane in it before, I dunno, doing something traditional for aviation businesses, like folding.

Tradition... that's a good one. But if it wasn't about tradition, what was it about?

Call me a cynic, but my answer is: money.

Now, universities have whole departments where this year's freshmen know more than I know about China, but when this story first hit, there was some noise about the number eight being lucky in China. I had never heard that before, but at this point I yield the floor to my brother, who was traveling from Beijing to Nanchang on personal business at the time:

"8 is the lucky number because the Chinese word for it sounds like the Chinese word for 'rich.'  Interesting China fact: a successful Chinese businessman paid $1.1 million for a cell phone number that sounded like 'I will be rich, be rich, be rich, be rich.'" 

Apparently the digit eight has this powerful sound in both Mandarin (the official language) and Cantonese (still widely spoken in the south, and in Taiwan). My brother was bemused by China's still-awkward mixed economy, too. Returning to the subject of the guy with the golden cellphone, he said:

"If he had had to get the phone through the Chinese Ministry for Happy Cell Phone Numbers, that one transaction would sum up the country pretty well.  Oh - the phone would have had to be delivered to the outskirts of Beijing by water buffalo cart, then whisked to a fabulous townhouse in the back of a Mercedes Maybach.  Now you understand China!"

It was widely reported earlier (including in Aero-News) that the designation change to 787 was under consideration, and that Boeing's interest in the white-hot Chinese domestic market, and the number's good-luck vibe in China, were factors. I don't think anyone else has reported that the reason the number is lucky is that it sounds like "rich." Somehow that makes the whole "lucky number" thing seem better-anchored and less superstitious.

And certainly, the six Chinese airlines that have ordered the 787 Dreamliner and Boeing hope that number eight will help them, like the million-dollar-cellphone entrepreneur, "be rich, be rich, be rich, be rich."

Then maybe Alan Mullaly and the folks at Boeing Commercial Airplanes will actually have to deal with what comes after "9". Wouldn't that be nice?

FMI: www.boeing.com

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