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Suppliers at arm’s length as Boeing heads for 797 decision

The distance between Boeing and its suppliers is a feature, not a bug, of the new aircraft's development.

The fifth in a series focusing on Boeing’s road to developing its next all-new commercial airplane.

More than 1,000 people inside Boeing are now working on the design of its New Mid-Market Airplane (NMA). The program is accelerating toward an internal launch around the end of the first quarter, according to several people familiar with the company’s planning.

In late 2018, staff at Boeing noticed a change in the wind. Manufacturing engineers were being reassigned in large groups, pulled from other programs to begin training on digital tools to join the rapidly-firming effort to design a new small twin-aisle airliner. They even noted the use of a new interim bookkeeping name — the 7K7 — to describe the airplane. (It is widely expected to become the 797) But even with that internal staff-up and fresh nomenclature, one group is still waiting by the phone. Suppliers across the industrial ecosystem aren’t clear on what Boeing wants or when Boeing might even want it.

Related: The linchpin technology behind Boeing’s 797

Absent that engagement, it has led many major suppliers in the chain to conclude that the schedule for the new airplane is sliding. However, those inside the company say this is a feature, not a bug, of the new aircraft development. It’s a plan driven by customer necessity for a svelte price tag and Boeing’s need to tap into the long stream of airline spending that follows a jet, all enabled by its simulation-driven development strategy.

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