Foreigners in business: Boeing Japan and the new Deamliner

July 4th, 2011By Category: Travel, Work Tips

These are busy days for Boeing Japan. This week marks the arrival in Japan of the long-awaited 787 Dreamliner to ANA after a delay of three years. ANA, which is the launch customer for the new plane, will start service ready operational validation (SROV) of the 787, testing it on routes from Haneda to airports in Osaka (Itami and Kansai), Okayama and Hiroshima.

Overseeing the company’s activities in Japan is Mike Denton, president of Boeing Japan and vice president of Boeing International. Denton received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Colorado in 1977 and earned a master’s degree in business administration from Seattle University in 1986. Prior to his appointment to Japan in January 2010, Denton was vice president of engineering for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. He was responsible for product development, engineering design, flight operations, test and validation, delegated compliance, certification and safety activities for all commercial airplane models, their derivatives and post-delivery upgrades.

Denton recently gave the media an outline of Boeing’s activities in Japan and abroad at a quarterly briefing at the company’s Otemachi office. GaijinPot, together with Japan Today editor Chris Betros reports.

You must be relieved now that the 787 has finally arrived?

There is a lot of excitement and a lot of tension. I think the real relief will come after it enters service. We are at the point where so much flight testing been completed, so we hope nothing else will emerge as an issue that will need a major fix and take time. After the SROV has been completed, delivery of the aircraft is scheduled for probably August or September.

What sort of support is Boeing offering ANA during the SROV period?

We have a larger-than-normal support team here to support ANA during the process—over 100 people. I would say the primary focus starts with ANA flying the 787 and evaluating their operations. The idea is to test the plane in a way that ANA plans on flying it, taking into account air turbulence and weather patterns. There is always a chance we could discover something in the way they operate the plane that suggests a change may be required.

What about the extra wear and tear of short-cycle operations?

We designed the 787 with the idea that it could support long-range international missions as well as a variety of domestic missions.  While we have not specifically optimized the 787 design for short-cycle operations that ANA might use it for in its domestic operations, we believe that the 787 will perform well on these routes. Its composite fuselage, for example, should not experience the same fatigue issues from multiple cycles that could occur on a metal fuselage. ANA has bought 55 787s so far and has stated their intent to use them on domestic and international routes.

What are the 787’s strengths?

From the beginning, we have talked about how the aircraft is significantly more efficient. Fuel prices have continued to go up and represent an ever bigger share of the total cost of a plane’s operation. The fuselage of the 787 has been made lighter and its fuel efficiency is 20% better than the 767 – something which we certainly emphasize. The 787 is faster than the 767 and the A330. It will fly at about Mach .84.

About 35% of the 787 and other Boeing aircraft are manufactured in Japan. How did the earthquake and tsunami affect operations?

The resilience of our partners has been amazing. One sub-tier supplier that builds engine parts was affected in the Soma region but they got back into full production fairly quickly. Our partners have made adjustments to their production schedules, for example, moving to non-peak times to cut back on power, so we don’t foresee any delays to supply. In fact, we hope that the 787 comes to symbolize Japan’s recovery.

How is the 747-8 Intercontinental (the new elongated passenger version of the jumbo jet) coming along?

The 747-8 Intercontinental is in its last stages of flight testing. Delivery will be at the end of this year. I think it symbolizes the legacy of the 747 and how it is moving on into the future. It incorporates the 787 engines and a new wing design, and it remains the fastest commercial jet flying today. The 747-8 actually has better seat-mile efficiency than the A380.

What is happening with the 737?

The exciting news is the new Boeing Sky Interior. It incorporates some of the design features of the 787 in the interior to improve the amount of storage capability available to the passenger, increase space availability, and has new lighting improvements. In the brief time that it has been available to our customers, more than 1,000 airplanes have been ordered. Earlier this year, Skymark took delivery of a 737 that has the new Boeing Sky Interior. More recently, Solaseed (formerly Skynet) announced their next delivery of a 737 that will have a Sky Interior.

What would you say Boeing’s image in Japan is?

I think we have a good image and reputation. It would be even better if we hadn’t had some of our delivery challenges with the 787. If it had successfully entered service as originally promised three years ago, our image would be much stronger. I think it will get better once the aircraft enters service and it demonstrates that it is as good as we promised.

Many people are probably unaware that Boeing is involved in more than just commercial aviation in Japan.

We do have a very significant defense presence in Japan. For example, we are selling Apache helicopter kits to Fuji because it is a licensed production. They build it and deliver it to the government. There is ongoing production of Chinook helicopters, that are also license produced. There are 767 tankers, F15 and F4 fighters in service, as well.

How important is Japan in Boeing’s operations?

Japan is a big part of Boeing’s future, maybe not as big in the long term as say China or India, but for the next 10 years, there is a possible market of 380 new airplanes that can be sold to Japan. We’d love to have a big share of that. It’s also worth noting that we have a long partnership with Japan that accounts for about 17,000 high-tech aerospace jobs. Working with the government and industry here to develop new technology ideas is very important to Boeing. Earlier this year, we reached an agreement with the National Institute of Material Sciences to collaborate on two projects.

Speaking of defense, what’s the latest news about the FX fighter selection process?

As you know, Japan’s Ministry of Defense released its RFP (request for proposal) back in April and our response is scheduled to be delivered to the ministry at the end of September. Boeing’s submittal in this competition is the F18 Super Hornet. We believe it offers the best combination of performance, affordability and available licensed production.

The Osprey and its possible deployment to Okinawa are also getting a lot of attention in the news.

I think it is important to point out that Boeing is a manufacturer. The decision on what to deploy and where to deploy it is a government to government decision. On the question of safety, though, Japan’s Ministry of Defense released some information recently. We looked at what the ministry released—and I believe the source came from the U.S.—and it is the same information we have. Basically, it says the Osprey has a better safety record in terms of events per 1,000 hours of operation than other rotor craft used by the U.S. Marine Corps today. Compared to rotor craft used in Futenma now, the Osprey is safer and it is somewhat quieter than the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters currently deployed at Futenma.

What sort of CSR activities is Boeing Japan involved in?

The Boeing Japan team, with airline customer and other volunteers, teamed up with 60 children, staff and parents of Tokyo Shure school to plant 180 saplings on the barren mountainsides of Ashio, in Tochigi Prefecture, in May. Also in May, more than 55 Boeing Japan volunteers took part in the 19th Annual International Walkathon Charity Festival in Nagoya, home to the manufacturing bases of Boeing’s main Japanese heavy industry partners. The event was organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and the Nagoya International School to raise funds for local orphanages and other charities. The Boeing team’s total contribution exceeded 1.3 million yen.

Last year, we started a program where we work with a small group of students over two months, giving them exposure to different executives at Boeing here and they learn about the process and business of aerospace design. It’s a great opportunity for us to engage with university students and work with future leaders.

How did Boeing respond to the events of March 11?

Boeing opened an employee contribution fund to collect money on the Monday after the disaster. About $1.3 million was collected in a very short time. The company is also giving a further $1 million toward the recovery effort. Our head of Global Corporate Citizenship was here in early June to visit people in the Tohoku area, including the mayor of an affected town, to try to understand how the money can be best spent.

As president of Boeing Japan, in what areas do you tend to be hands-on and in what areas do you prefer to delegate to your team?

I will delegate heavily on defense activities, although I might go occasionally to the Ministry of Defense to represent greater Boeing. I will certainly get more involved in working with our partners and suppliers. My background is engineering, so I can give good insight to an issue that a partner might be having relative to a production problem or relative to an engineering issue associated with something they are building for us. I also play a hands-on role in negotiations with JCAB (Japan Civil Aviation Bureau). I’ve been going to all of those meetings to talk about what is going on with the 787.

How do you like to relax?

Tokyo is a great place to live in. I had a culture coach early on and I became determined not to leave Japan without visiting some of the more noteworthy attractions. It’s so easy to just get focused on your normal routine like playing golf, going to the gym, a favorite restaurant or just working longer hours. That has been my weakness. So I’ve got my list of places to visit. And there are more restaurants here than I could visit in a lifetime.

Photo credit: Dave Sizer / Flickr


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GaijinPot is an online community for foreigners living in Japan, providing information on everything you need to know about enjoying life here, from finding a job and accommodation to having fun.

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