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Monday, June 16, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boeing names first 7E7 partners

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

PARIS — Boeing is naming its first supplier partners for the proposed 7E7 jetliner today, drawing heavily from specialists in carbon-fiber composite materials previously named to the technology team for the now-defunct Sonic Cruiser.

The group will include Vought Aircraft Industries of Dallas and Alenia Aeronautica of Italy, The Seattle Times confirmed yesterday. Also expected to be a partner is Japan Aircraft Industries (JAI), which includes longtime Boeing suppliers Fuji Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

The announcements are likely to be short on detail. Boeing is not expected to specify what pieces of the airplane each supplier will build, nor is it going to discuss the terms of the supplier relationships.

But Alan Mulally, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, confirmed the possibility that supplier partners could become equity investors in a separate company to build the 7E7. "I wouldn't rule that out," Mulally said.

Roles of internal Boeing suppliers previously named to the technology team, such as Boeing Wichita and Hawker de Havilland, an Australian supplier, will not be specified today.

Mulally promised at a news conference yesterday that its supplier relationships will be "significantly different" than in the past.

Lynne Warne, a spokeswoman for Vought, confirmed the longtime-Boeing supplier will be one of the partners named to the team. But she said it is not yet known what parts, or how much of the plane, Vought will build.

"We hope it looks like that," Warne said, pointing to a graphic of a 747 with large swaths of the fuselage highlighted in blue to show Vought components.

Vought builds nearly the entire 747 fuselage in California and ships the pieces by rail to Boeing's Everett plant.

The Dallas company supplies a relatively small portion of the 777. By contrast, the Japanese heavies build fuselage panels for that airplane as well as the twin-aisle 767 and ship them by sea to Everett.

Alenia is also awaiting word on the extent of its participation in the program, although the Italian company has expressed a desire to invest substantially in the program to expand its ties with Boeing.

"(The 7E7) is a very significant project for us," said Stefano Tagliani, a spokesman for Alenia. "We think the aerostructures are strategic for our business and for Boeing.

"The two partners are still evaluating the amount of the project that Alenia will take. We hope to play a significant role."

Mulally did not mention JAI by name at the news conference but said he expects Japanese suppliers to produce as much or more of the 7E7 as the roughly 21 percent of the 777 they currently manufacture.

"They've got some tremendous expertise in composites and they'll bring a lot to the design team," Mulally said.

Boeing is expected to name one materials supplier per continent today, several sources said. Consequently, Vought will be the sole U.S. supplier and Alenia will be the sole European member of the team.

That means Britain's GKN Aerospace, Fischer Advanced Composite Components of Austria and Stork Fokker Aerostructures of the Netherlands, which worked on the Sonic Cruiser, did not make the cut.

Today's announcements come just a few days after Boeing confirmed the 7E7 will rely heavily on carbon-fiber composites for major parts of the plane's wings, fuselage and tail, marking a significant shift from aluminum.

"Composites have been everybody's dream on airplanes forever," Mulally said, noting their strength, light weight and resistance to corrosion. "The problem has been cost."

Boeing believes new manufacturing techniques will bring the costs down to favorable levels for the 7E7.

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com

People's choice: Dreamliner

Boeing yesterday said the planned 7E7 jet will be called Dreamliner, winner from among four choices in a vote by 500,000 people.

Dreamliner beat out eLiner, Global Cruiser and Stratoclimber in the 60-nation Internet vote.

The name "demonstrates how the airplane's economics will enable more people around the world to fulfill their dreams of traveling to new places, experiencing new cultures and staying connected to one another," Boeing said.

— Bloomberg News

Delivery forecasts still stand

LE BOURGET, France — The heads of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Airbus yesterday underlined the grim economics in aviation while sticking with their forecasts for the number of planes they will deliver this year.

Boeing's Alan Mulally said the company was on target to reach 280 deliveries, while Airbus' Chief Executive Noel Forgeard confirmed his target of 300 aircraft this year, surpassing Boeing.

Forgeard touted the progress the company was making on its new jet, the 550-seat A380. He said 96 percent of the supplier selection had been completed and that advance drawings were more than 50 percent completed.

— The Associated Press

BAE dismisses merger report

BAE Systems, Europe's biggest weapons maker, said a report it may merge with General Dynamics or sell its shipbuilding business to the company was "full-blown speculation."

Britain's Sunday Times reported BAE has selected General Dynamics as a partner. If it can't merge with the company, General Dynamics may buy BAE's shipbuilding unit, enabling BAE to merge with Boeing, the newspaper said, citing unidentified executives.

BAE wants to expand in the United States, the biggest market for military hardware, to compensate for stalling defense budgets elsewhere.

Boeing Chairman Phil Condit said in March that the company may consider a takeover of BAE.

— Bloomberg News

Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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