Free Enterprise Staff  | March 27, 2015

The Future of Air Travel: What Boeing’s CEO Says We Can Expect

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’ve flown on a Boeing jetliner before.

The U.S. industrial giant is the world’s largest aerospace company, designing and manufacturing commercial jetliners and military aircraft at its production centers across the country. With some 12,000 commercial jetliners currently in service—representing roughly 75% of the world’s fleet—Boeing’s position atop the global aviation sector gives it a unique perspective on where air travel is headed as technology becomes more and more advanced.

And when it comes to that subject, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more knowledgeable person than Ray Conner, the vice chairman of the Boeing Company and president and C.E.O. of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Boeing and its international customers depend on Conner to ensure the company continues to outperform its rivals.

The Boeing Dreamliner was put through intense testing before its inaugural commercial flight. Video credit: Boeing

Conner, who participated in a panel discussion during this month’s Aviation Summit, recently talked with Free Enterprise about his background, his role at Boeing, and the future of air travel.

1. How does Boeing stay ahead of its peers?

We have to continue to give our airline customers the best products and services at the best price. Everything we do is focused on finding better ways to deliver value to our customers. If we can exceed customer expectations and deliver airplanes on time with greater value and reduce costs, we’ll set ourselves up for success.

2. Name three ways that planes will change between now and 2025.

The 787 has already changed the entire industry with our use of composites. Now, we’re harvesting that technology for our future products. The 777X is a great example of that. It will have the largest wing we’ve ever built—made from composites. Our employees will now be working on the cutting edge of composite technology, something that will be vital for our Boeing.

Inside our airplanes, we continue to enhance our award-winning interiors. The 787’s revolutionary interior that features higher humidity, LED lighting, and larger, dimmable windows is already a hit with passengers. We’re taking that up a notch with the 777X’s interior—as well as our new Space Bins on 737s that will allow much more room for your bags.

Finally, our use of automation will allow us to improve quality as we continue to go up in production rates. Advanced manufacturing also frees up our employees from repetitive work and allows them use their skills in other key areas. We’ll be building safety and quality into our products.

3. How is Boeing improving the fuel efficiency of its next-generation airplanes, and are you exploring the use of alternative fuels at all?

First and foremost, Boeing offers the most fuel-efficient airplanes ‎in our industry. The 787 is 20-30 percent more efficient than the airplane it replaces, and, in the future, the 737 MAX and the 777x will lead their markets in efficiency. Using less fuel helps our customers’ profitability and reduces carbon emissions.

A Boeing Dreamliner during takeoff. Video credit: Boeing

Boeing is also the industry leader in developing sustainable aviation biofuel. This is jet fuel made from plants, used cooking oil, and other materials; it is blended directly with petroleum jet fuel and can be used in any jet engine. We collaborate with airlines, governments, and others in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania on biofuel development. ‎As an example, we partnered with our customer Hainan Airlines and the oil company Sinopec to make China’s first passenger flight using biofuel on March 21.

Biofuel significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to petroleum jet fuel, and it will play a vital role in helping our industry meet its environmental goals.

4. Airplanes increasingly rely on sophisticated computing technology. What is the latest development that has impressed you?

The 787’s flight deck is about as sophisticated as you can get and is really a thing of beauty. There are other unique features like full-time tactical map displays, large format map displays, dual head up displays (HUDs), and electronic flight bags. In addition, the displays are more flexible to allow pilots to configure the displays more to their own liking.

Ray Conner is president & CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Photo credit: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Ray Conner is president & CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Photo credit: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

5. Name three terms you hope people think of when they hear the name Boeing.

Innovative. People-centered. Customer-focused.

6. Have you ever flown on a Boeing plane before and then realized there was a feature that needed to be updated or innovated? If so, can you describe that experience? 

I’m never satisfied until we’ve delivered on our commitments to our customers and exceeded their expectations. But just like almost everyone who works at this company, I’m always proud to fly on a Boeing airplane.

7. What’s an innovative feature we’ll be seeing soon on the newest Boeing aircraft?

The new 737 MAX enters final assembly this year. The airplane will feature our new Advanced Technology (AT) winglet. Our aerodynamicists used advanced computational fluid dynamics to combine rake tip technology with a dual feather winglet concept. The AT winglet reduces drag and increases aerodynamic efficiency by more than 1.5 percent over today’s winglet designs. That’s a huge benefit for our customers.