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Sat, Dec 22, 2007

Boeing To Keep 787 Workers On Line Over Holiday

Working To Catch-Up On Dreamliner

If you're looking for an example of just how serious Boeing is about avoiding a second production-related delay to its 787 Dreamliner program, consider this -- the American planemaker will keep most of the 787 production line open through the company's traditional holiday break period.

The Seattle Times reports 787 technicians will work three shifts, around the clock, through most of the next week -- even as Boeing's other lines shut down for nearly two weeks for the holiday. Apart from running a single shift on Christmas and New Year's eves, and a day off on each of the two holidays, the Dreamliner line will continue to run in Everett.

The reason why is clear -- Boeing is playing an important game of catch-up, to put its most vaunted current jet program back on track, following its announcement earlier this year of a six-month delay.

"We're working very hard to recover from that," said Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Scott Carson in recent interview with the Seattle paper. "You build a reputation over a long period of time and you can lose it in a heartbeat."

In order for Boeing to meet its revised schedule, the first 787 -- the one shown to the public in a lavish ceremony in July, then promptly disassembled and reassembled with permanent fasteners -- must fly by the end of March, and the program must win certification prior to delivery of the first plane to All Nippon Airways by the end of '08.

Even Carson admits that'll be tough, and assumes no significant issues crop up with the Dreamliner during flight testing.

"Are there likelihoods of any surprises? Man, that's a roll of the die," Carson said. "On balance, we think this is a reasonably achievable program -- the kind of risks we have come to understand over the years."

Adding another potential complication to Boeing's ambitious schedule for 2008 -- which, in addition to the 787, Boeing hopes will also see a big contract win in the US Air Force KC-X tanker program, and the first production US Navy P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft coming off the line -- are looming negotiations with the International Association of Machinists and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

To meet its ambitious goals, Boeing must absolutely avoid labor strife... but, fortunately for the planemaker, so far at least one union representative has kind words for Carson and his chief labor negotiator, Doug Kight.

"We're in the best shape we've been in in a long time to get a good contract," said Tom Wroblewski, president of Machinist district lodge 751. "It's nice to know we've got a couple of guys over there engaging us in talks."

Wroblewski adds the atmosphere for negotiations has improved over those men's predecessors, Alan Mulally and Jerry Calhoun. "We've had more dialogue in terms of contract than we've had in a dozen previous years," he said.

Of course, money helps... and Boeing appears to realize that. This week, the planemaker agreed to a deal to award nearly $1 million in back pay, split among roughly 200 machinists, to match a raise given initially to later hires.

Which, come to think of it, will probably make it a bit less painful for those workers to show up on the job next week.

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.goiam.org, www.speea.org

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