Tuesday, 15 December 2009, was an exciting day for aviation folks worldwide. The long awaited, Boeing 787 Dreamliner finally “slipped the surly bonds of earth” and took to the air.
If you love airplanes, as I do, this was not just some antiseptic item on a long list of items to be completed prior to achieving certification as a commercial airliner. This was an event. It was an emotional experience in some ways similar to witnessing the birth of a child or watching a spectacular first game of a highly touted rookie ball player.
I’ll admit that I’m one of those people that can sit in an airport for hours and just watch. Seeing any airplane rumble down the runway, tentatively lifting the nose up and finally, irrevocably taking to the air puts a lump in my throat. Watching that 787 line up on the runway in the rainy Seattle morning and finally begin her take off roll was a site I will never forget.
Today, no doubt, the reality of that long checklist to airworthiness has set in and all those people are back to doing what they do very well; building airplanes. There will be more hurdles, there may even be set backs, but yesterday was an achievement and milestone that invites a bit of celebration.
So, to that end, let us all offer congratulations to Boeing and to all the good people at Boeing. Congratulations as well to the suppliers and to the airline customers whose orders are emblematic of the hopes and dreams fulfilled by the 787 program.
I think in the end this industry, and other complex manufacturers will owe Boeing a great debt. After all, not only is the 787 a pioneering aircraft design, its manufacture is accomplished through a number of pioneering processes as well. It has been a learning experience, a very expensive learning experience, for Boeing.
However, many can learn from this experience. Boeing blazed this trail, Boeing stood against the criticism, second-guessing, I told you so platitudes and other pronouncements from those eager to see the giant stumble.
Another benefit of this experience is that average non-manufacturing people now have a better appreciation of what it takes to make something.
When I was a little child, I actually thought that food came from pots, pan and skillets. I figured you just set the pot on the stove, turned the handle and like magic, fried chicken would just appear there. Many people think this way about factories. A building goes up, bunches of people are hired and soon toasters start coming out of the shipping end of the building.
I was in a bookstore the other day and was behind a nice elderly woman who was inquiring about why the store was out of her favorite authors books. I overheard her explain to the store clerk that they had a supply chain issue. I almost fell over.
Two years ago, you would be truly challenged to find anyone outside of the manufacturing world who knew what a supply chain was. Now supply chains are topics of discussion during Wednesday afternoon Bridge.
Frankly, I think that’s wonderful. People need to know what it takes to make a lawnmower, a bicycle, a radio or an airplane.
The 787, like so many products today is a “world” product. The parts, supplies, assemblies and sub-assemblies come from all over the planet. The more the average person understands that we all need each other, that we don’t operate within a local, regional, national or even continental silo, the quicker we will be able to enjoy the benefits of a real recovery featuring a self sustaining economic growth.
So, to Boeing, who now faces the daunting challenge of mass producing this beautiful aircraft, I say thank you, congratulations and best of luck!
I’m looking forward to my first flight!