CHICAGO-Boeing Co. plans to adopt air transportation as its primary method to deliver large subassemblies, such as fuselage and wing sections. Its goal is to dramatically reduce the time it takes to transport components from suppliers. Boeing plans to implement the strategy with its new 7E7 airliner, which is currently under development.

The company projects possible savings of 20 percent to 40 percent compared to traditional shipping methods. It claims the strategy will reduce the amount of time it takes large parts to arrive at the final assembly site from as many as 30 days to only 1 day.

Such savings will allow the initial investment in air transportation for the 7E7 to be recouped in the first few years of production, claims Mike Bair, senior vice president of the 7E7 program. "Transporting large pieces by air will allow us to dramatically reduce flow time," says Bair. "We're committed to doing things differently to create value for our customers."

"The 7E7 will be the first large commercial jet to have a majority of its primary structure-including the wing and fuselage-made of composite materials," adds Bair. "That allows us to build larger, more integrated assemblies that will come from all over the world. Regardless of where the final assembly site is, air transport is a perfect solution."

The much-anticipated 7E7 will be Boeing's first all-new jetliner since the 777 debuted in 1995. It is expected to consume 20 percent less fuel than current aircraft. Boeing plans to select a site for 7E7 final assembly by early next year. Industry analysts believe the company will build a new plant in the Midwest or South that incorporates state-of-the-art manufacturing processes. The first aircraft are expected to roll off the assembly line in 2008.

Boeing will use at least three modified 747 airliners to transport the 7E7 components. The company traditionally relies on a network of barges, railcars and trucks-to-ship airframe structures. Its archrival, Airbus Industrie (Toulouse, France), pioneered the practice of airlifting subassemblies. It uses specially equipped aircraft to transport large components from plants in England, Germany and Spain.