Thursday, December 11, 2003

GE workers tour new 777



By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] A new Boeing 777-300ER, with GE engines, landed in Cincinnati after a nonstop flight from the Dubai Air Show.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
Hundreds of GE Aircraft Engines employees Wednesday got an up-close look at the engine maker's latest collaboration with Boeing Co.

Boeing's new 777-300ER, powered by GEAE's highest-thrust GE90-115B engine, paid a promotional visit to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

The GE90 is assembled in Durham, N.C., but the program is administered from Evendale, and ground testing is done in Peebles, Ohio. About 600 GEAE employees toured the aircraft, which flew 16 hours nonstop from the Dubai Air Show in the United Arab Emirates, a Persian Gulf nation where it was on display at an air show.

"It wasn't bad actually. We flew along the Red Sea and dropped down to see the Pyramids,'' said Alan Baines, one of about 23 technicians on board, monitoring banks of computers for flight tests.

Boeing and GEAE have a lot at stake with the 360-seat, extended range version of the 777, which will enter service in April with Air France. Boeing is facing increased competitive pressure from European rival Airbus, which this week said it expects to deliver 300 jetliners this year, surpassing Boeing's planned 280.

Boeing's executive suite is also in turmoil with the recent resignations of its chairman and chief financial officer amid a government defense probe.

GEAE and its partners spent a couple of billion dollars developing the initial GE90 in the early 1990s and doubled-down that bet in 1999 when it agreed to supply the GE90-115B for the 777-300ER and longer-range -200LR and underwrite some of the aircraft's development costs.

GEAE believes the -115B, the biggest and most powerful jet engine ever built, could bring in $20 billion over the next few decades.

The 777-300ER is wrapping up 1,500 hours of flight tests begun last February. En route to Cincinnati, the plane flew for 5 1/2 hours on one engine, part of government-required tests for twin-engine jets.

Leaving Cincinnati today , the aircraft flies to Easter Island in the Pacific before returning to Seattle to be refurbished for a customer.

Unlike Airbus, which has opted to build larger planes, Boeing anticipates future flights carrying fewer passengers longer distances.

The 777-300ER, for example, will fly about 7,500 nautical miles, allowing nonstop service on routes such as Paris to Los Angeles and New York to Tokyo.

The smaller 777-200LR, which enters service in 2006, will carry about 300 passengers up to 9,000 nautical miles, routes such as Singapore to New York and Dallas to Sydney, Australia.

The eight airlines that to date have ordered 63 of the 777-300ERs don't include Delta Air Lines. But Lars Andersen, Boeing program manager, said that doesn't mean the aircraft won't fly here some day.

"Cincinnati is a key hub for Delta to Europe. At some point, they may be able to justify buying larger aircraft for those cities,'' he said.

Email mboyer@enquirer.com



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