The news that the head of the troubled Boeing 747-8 program, Mohammad “Mo” Yahyavi, was removed August 27 is long overdue and only endemic of the slow pace at Boeing to address and correct program difficulties.
Inexplicably, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney—who inherited a growing mess from former CEO Harry Stonecipher (and his interim successor and caretaker, the late Lew Platt)—has been excruciatingly slow to make changes in the 787 and 747 programs.
While the 787 has garnered all the attention and headlines for what is fast approaching three years in delays after seven program reschedulings, the less-visible 747-8 is also a poster child for Things Wrong at Boeing.
Even before the 787 roll out on 7/8/07, information was circulating that resources were being diverted to or retained by the 787 program from the 747-8 and other programs. As the 787 problems got worse, so did the insidious affect on other programs. Boeing’s plan had been that once the 787 entered service in May 2008, a replacement airplane for the 737 was going to be pursued, followed by one for the 777. But the issues with the 787 and 747-8 upset these plans.
The 747-8 is a classic example of mission creep—and may be an influencing factor in the future of the 737. The 747-8 was supposed to be pretty much a straight-forward re-engining program, using the 787’s GEnx power plants. Instead, a new wing was required, new systems were adopted, aerodynamics changes made and the plane became almost entirely new: about 85%, according to Boeing and about 95% by weight of the parts, according to one major supplier.
Boeing still struggles with aerodynamic issues with the 747-8 that is causing delays in flight testing, FAA certification and which raises the possibility of costly fixes that could delay the program even more. The company has already telegraphed delivery could slip into 2011. Remove “could” and substitute “will.” The only questions are “when” and “can a new date be believed?”
When it comes to the prospect of re-engining the 737, will the 747-8”RE” mission creep be a major factor? Because of the 737’s age, new systems will be required to meet FAA regulations. What structural changes will truly be necessary? What other changes will engineers want? Airbus’ John Leahy, COO-Customers, told his engineers to stick only with the new engine and forget about mission creep in order to retain 95% commonality with the current A320.
There are just 109 orders for the 747-8: 76 freighters, 20 passenger models from Lufthansa, five from Korean Air and the balance VIPs. The Lufthansa order is understood to have a relationship to Boeing cancellation years ago of its in-flight Internet Connexion service for which Lufthansa was a launch customer and the KAL order is tied up in compensation for late deliveries of the 787 and 747-8F.
It’s too late for Boeing to do anything but “hang on” with the 747-8. Cancellation would cause too much “collateral damage” to customers.