The Boeing 787 is a noteworthy indication that Asia is fast emerging and strengthening its position as a key player in the aviation industry, with 40 per cent of the parts in the next generation jet being manufactured and assembled in this region.
Countries such as South Korea and Japan are no doubt leading the shift in the aviation landscape of Asia, with advanced technology development and precision engineering, which will eventually have a spin-off effect in the region.
“I am proud of the work being done here in Asia. It is really impressive and they are highly reliable,” said Boeing vice president of 787 Supplier Management, George L Maffeo, at the end of Asia Pacific 787 Supplier Media Tour, which ended recently.
The Japanese companies in particular practiced “kaizen” (Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the better”) techniques, he said.
These companies, which did not only produce the parts, but also had their hands on some of the designs, have excellence flexibility and are able to deliver on time, he said.
Companies involved in the program are Korean Airlines Aerospace Division (KAL), Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd (KAI) and from Japan, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd (FHI), Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd (KHI) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd (MHI).
FHI, KHI and MHI are building 35 per cent of the 787-8, which is scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2011, three years behind its schedule, while the 787-9 in 2013.
FHI makes the Section 11 center wingbox and integrates it with main landing gear wheel well structure; KHI makes Section 43 forward center fuselage and Section 45 wheel well, while MHI, which is Japan s biggest aerospace manufacturer, makes the wings.
The Korean companies, KAL makes 787 tail sections and KAI the wingtip fabrication.
To date, the jet has 847 orders from 55 countries across six continents valued at US7 billion.
In a nutshell, the Asian supplier makes the whole center part of jet where the wings are attached more commonly known as the heart of the plane.
Hence, Asia is critical for the Boeing 787 s success, head of communications for Boeing Asia-Pacific, Ken Morton, said.
For Boeing, it is also the success of its more than three decades of relationship and cooperation with these suppliers, said George.
The 787-8 Dreamliner will have the capacity to carry 210-250 passengers on routes of 14,200 to 15,200 kilometers, while the 787-9 Dreamliner will carry 250 – 290 passengers on routes of 14,800 to 15,750 kilometers.
As the delivery of the jet is imminent, Boeing has put in place plans to deliver 10 jets per month and the suppliers in Asia are prepared well ahead.
All the suppliers are either in the process of expanding their current facility or have already done the expansion to accommodate a surge in demand.
For instance, KHI s senior staff officer, manufacturing division, Aerospace company, Akira Taniguchi, said its new plant was partially in operations for the 787-8 and another assembly line will be added next spring.
The pre-production for the 787-9 will start in 2011, he said.
KHI would use the same machines for the bigger version of the Dreamliner, but the tools for the jet would differ from that of 787-8, he said.
Similarly, MHI s plant that produces parts for the Boeing 787-8 has been intentionally made comparable to 787-9 from the production perspective, its site manager, 787 Japan Program MHI Commercial Airplanes, Alan L. Crowder, said.
However, none of the parts suppliers revealed the investment made to produce the parts for the jet or for expansion.
In addition to bringing big-jet ranges to mid-size airplanes, the 787 will provide airlines with unmatched fuel efficiency, resulting in exceptional environmental performance.
The airplane will use 20 per cent less fuel for comparable missions than today’s similarly sized airplane as a major portion of the plane is made of composites (carbon fibre overlaid with resins), which makes the jet significantly lighter.
It will also travel at speeds similar to today’s fastest wide bodies, Mach 0.85. Airlines will enjoy more cargo revenue capacity.
Passengers will also see improvements with the new airplane, from an interior environment with higher humidity to increased comfort and convenience.
The shift on airplane manufacturing to Asia, no doubt is also in line with the surge in demand for air travel in Asia.
Over the next 20 years, 466,650 pilots and 596,500 technicians will be needed, of which the Asia Pacific region will account for 39 per cent of pilot requirements, and 38 per cent of technicians.