When people who have been to Boeing's factory at Everett,
north of Seattle, say it is big, and then continue to go on
about how big it is, that is because it is stupendously
Aircraft non-aficionado Debbie Porteous was a bit bewildered
after a recent visit to the 39ha factory.
It is easy to imagine some visitors to Boeing's Everett
factory spending a substantial part of their visit gazing up
with their gobs open, maybe dribbling a little. They might
even appear as if the 1 million overhead light bulbs have
somehow stupefied them.
That is because of the size of the place and the things in
Boeing had to install an air circulation system to prevent
clouds from forming up by the ceiling - it's that large.
This shed has to be big, because inside it big things are
built. Here, the Boeing 747s, 777s and the company's latest
aircraft, the 787 Dreamliners, are assembled. Military 767s
are assembled here too, but visitors aren't allowed to see
Oddly, one of the first facts visitors to the factory learn
is there is a Tully's coffee shop at the back of the 777 line
that is the national chain's top-selling store.
Assembling planes is clearly thirsty work.
But it is only one of a steady stream of facts from the big
world of the Boeing factory 26km north of Seattle, where a
group of New Zealand media was brought by Air New Zealand
recently to inspect the new 787-9 Dreamliners - the company
will be the first airline to put a ''Dash-9'' into commercial
service later this year - being put together.
About 35,000 work in this factory every day, all helping to
produce the two to five completed aircraft that roll on to
the tarmac (through one of six rugby-field sized doors) each
Even with three shifts, employees have to leave in staggered
waves to avoid completely swamping the local roads.
The majority of these employees are employed to shuffle parts
around the building. That is because there are a lot of
parts. A 777 has three million. A 747 has six million.
You start to see how a visitor can be overwhelmed.
Luckily, we have long-time Boeing tour guide Wes Bare, a
former airliner pilot, to keep us moving lest we freeze,
forever looking up in amazement.
Before we even set off around the floor of the factory in an
electric vehicle, Wes bamboozles us with the fact the
building is so big, you could drop Disneyland, Buckingham
Palace or the Taj Mahal inside it. London's Olympic Stadium
would fit in there three times over.
Headsets on and we are whizzing past the 1500th Boeing 747 in
production. The first one was built in 1966.
We hit the 1km-long indoor road that runs from one end of the
building to the other, giving way to some of the 2000
bicycles used by staff to get around the building.
We pass giant tumblers where fuselage pieces are rolled back
and forward so they can be joined with relative ease, then
come to the 777 assembly line.
We stop at a 777 engine. It is enormous. It costs $23 million
($NZ26.7 million). It has about 90,000 pounds of thrust. Wes
takes our photo with it.
Back to the area where the aircraft wings are put together
(not the Dreamliner wings, which are flown fully assembled to
Seattle in the cargo aircraft called Dreamlifters) and past
some passenger seats labelled with a warning to ''treat as
Each seat is worth $270,000, you see. Finally, we come to the
787 production line, where we get off and walk among the
staff milling around the plane bodies.
Teams of engineers roll their desks and chairs into small
clusters when a plane comes to their station, and out again
as the plane - which is winched between the various
construction stations at a speed of 10cm per minute - moves
on to the next.
They are super-sensitive about the information on the floor,
whether they are more worried about the competition or
terrorism is unclear, and our group is approached three times
by staff worried that we are taking photos.
As we progress down the line the planes become more finished.
Close to the end is the 177th Dreamliner to be built. It is
nearly ready to be rolled off in an overnight mission to be
painted in another enormous hangar across the road.
It is out of one of those hangars that Air New Zealand's
black-painted Dash-9 was rolled last week, to great fanfare.
The cabins will be fitted out, and flight tests and
certification completed before Air New Zealand takes delivery
By March 122 Dash-8 Dreamliners had been delivered since they
entered service in 2011.
Popular because their composite fuselage makes them lighter,
therefore cheaper to run, Boeing has just over 1000 orders on
its books for the three types in the family, the 787-8, 787-9
Issues with the new technology caused initial production and
delivery delays, but 787s are now being produced at a rate of
10 a month out of Everett and Boeing's factory in South
Before our factory floor tour George S. Alabi, the regional
director of product marketing, explained to us the selling
points of a Dreamliner.
He said passengers enjoyed moister air at a lower altitude
cabin pressure, meaning less chance of dehydration, with
irritants such as perfume and alcohol fumes removed, so they
arrived feeling fresher.
People tended to think the planes were bigger than a 747
inside because of their bigger windows (60% bigger than in
comparable passenger craft), dynamic LED lighting, wider
aisles and higher ceilings.
The windows could be darkened at the touch of a button rather
than with a shutter and even people in the middle seats can
see some sort of horizon from their rows.
They offer a less bumpy flight, too, as computers sense
oncoming turbulence and command wing control surfaces to
counter it, smoothing out the ride.
Airlines like Dreamliners because composite fuselage is
light, resulting in about 20% lower fuel consumption. They
have 30% lower maintenance requirements, a big range, and
more cargo capacity so companies can take advantage of that
side of business.
They are also 60% quieter than similar-sized craft, allowing
them to land at more noise-sensitive airports.
The Dash-9 is longer, can carry more passengers and fly
further than the Dash-8, which is already in service.
Air New Zealand will take delivery of its first of three $250
million 787-9s in the middle of this year.
A further two are due later in 2014. They are part of a major
fleet renewal for the company, that includes a total of 10
new planes and the retirement of its two 747-400s and five
767-300ERs, which will be phased out as the newer aircraft
The 787-9s will be fitted with 302 seats with 18 lie-flat
seats in the business premier cabin, 21 new design seats in
premium economy and 263 in the two economy cabins, and are
expected to enter service in 2015, firstly on transtasman
routes and then on the haul to China and Japan.
The writer travelled to Seattle as a guest of Air New
The Boeing Everett factory
• 39ha size of factory (98 acres).
• 13.3 million cu m (biggest building by volume
in the world).
• 1 million light bulbs used to illuminate the
building 24 hours a day.
• 1km long main corridor.
• 3.5km perimeter.
• 19 cafeterias, which pump out 17,000 meals per
• 35,000 employees (in the factory itself)
working in three shifts per day.
• 57 rugby fields would fit inside the
• You can have your teeth whitened or your body
• 17 days for a plane to be constructed from
start to finish.
• 10cm per minute is speed planes move from
station to station on production line.
The 787-9 Dreamliner
Range: up to 15,200 km
Cruise speed: Mach 0.85/1041.3kmh
Maximum takeoff weight: 250,836kg