Blunt words from Bair

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on November 1 some criticism of suppliers by Mike Bair of Boeing, who was recently replaced as the head of the 787 _Dreamliner_ program.

A top executive of The Boeing Co. (Chicago, Ill.), Mike Bair, who was recently replaced as head of the troubled 787 program, said some suppliers have let the company down.

“Some of these guys we won’t use again,” Bair said Wednesday in a speech to the Snohomish County Economic Development Council. He did not name names.

Did Bair mean to include Boeing’s top-tier partners in the U.S., Italy and Japan that are responsible for manufacturing the composite wings and fuselage sections of the new jet?

“The suppliers you name and some of their subtiers,” a Boeing spokesman said Thursday when asked to clarify Bair’s comments.

One industry analyst called Bair’s speech “remarkable.” Bair did not have a prepared speech, Boeing said.

For Boeing’s next all-new jet program after the 787, Bair said, it would be better to have a central manufacturing site rather than the global assembly method that is being used for the 787.

He said Boeing would put pressure on its suppliers the next time to locate in the same area.

The 787 production system requires modified 747 freighters to ferry the large wings and fuselage sections from the various manufacturing sites around the world, with final assembly at Boeing’s Everett plant.

“It’s an elegant solution to having suppliers in the wrong spot,” Bair said.

Bair, who had led the 787 from its start, was replaced last month, shortly after the company announced a six-month delay in delivering the first planes to customers because of supply-chain and production problems. Boeing workers at the Everett factory were overwhelmed by work that should have been done by suppliers.

Boeing has yet to complete work on the first plane, which has remained in the factory since its official unveiling on July 8. First flight of that plane, initially set for late August or early September, has been delayed until the late first quarter of next year, Boeing said.

On the 787 program, Boeing gave some of the design work to suppliers, in addition to manufacturing responsibilities.

Bair said some of that design work had to be done by Boeing when some suppliers “proved incapable of doing it.” The 787 will be the first large commercial jet made mostly of carbon fiber-reinforced composites instead of aluminum.

The major 787 partners include the three Japanese heavies: Mitsubishi makes the wings; Kawasaki a section of the forward fuselage, the main landing-gear wheel well and the fixed trailing edges of the wings; and Fuji the center wing box. Alenia Aeronautica of Italy produces the center fuselage and horizontal stabilizer.

Vought Aircraft Industries in South Carolina makes the rear fuselage section. Vought and Alenia also have a joint assembly facility in Charleston. Spirit AeroSystems in Kansas makes the nose and forward fuselage.

Boeing has acknowledged problems at the plants in Japan, Italy and South Carolina, and the company has sent hundreds of its own people to those sites to help get things on track.

“We made a bunch of mistakes and we learned a lot,” Bair said.

In a recent conference call with media and analysts, Jim McNerney, chairman and chief executive of Boeing, said the 787 production system - an industry first - has not worked as well as planned. But he said it is still the best and most efficient way to build airplanes once the early kinks are worked out. Airbus, in fact, plans a similar production system for its A350 jetliner due in 2013.

The Boeing spokeswoman said Bair, in his speech, was not suggesting the 787 productions system is flawed and should be scrapped, only that it would be better to have the main manufacturing partners together and located near Boeing’s final assembly facility.

After being replaced as the 787 boss, Bair, 51, was handed a new assignment as senior vice president of business strategy and marketing for the commercial airplanes unit. In that job, he will direct the business strategy for new airplane programs, including the ongoing study of a 737 replacement.

The report, written by James Wallace, includes information from The Associated Press.