EBACE Convention News

Boeing Business Jets confident as it studies Combi

 - May 16, 2015, 9:00 AM
Boeing Business Jets chief David Longridge has confidence in 2015.

New Boeing Business Jets chief David Longridge expects his division to mark a strong 2015, following a year in which the organization delivered 10 and sold 13 aircraft, including four widebodies. The company is on pace with deliveries this year, handing over a BBJ and two widebodies (777-300 and 787-8) in the first quarter. Several more are in completions.

While deliveries continue, new sales also have remained strong this year. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said Longridge, a 21-year Boeing veteran who late last year succeeded Steve Taylor at the helm of the BBJ division.

Longridge returned to the organization that he first joined during its infancy in 1996 and served as a sales director for nearly two years. After concentrating on the airline market for a number of years in the interim, Longridge is happy to jump back into the business jet arena. “It is one of the most fascinating corners of the aviation world,” he said. The airline market is financially driven, Longridge said. While that’s also true for business aviation, he noted another aspect of the market. “It’s one of the few areas where there is a sheer unbridled joy.”

He notes that BBJ has changed substantially since when he first departed. When Longridge left, there were two products: the 737-based BBJ and the BBJ 2. Now, the division offers 11 products representing the spectrum of Boeing’s commercial product line. For Longridge, the expansion is a welcome change. Noting his time as sales director in the late 1990s, he pointed to the “frustration I had before, when people would want to buy widebodies and I couldn’t help them.”

In business aviation, people have very specific needs, and the product line must support that, Longridge said. He credited the varied product line with helping promote the uptick in sales last year. The launch of the “Max” helped, he said, as well as customer interest in the 787 and 777. Longridge is pleased by the balance of sales.

While interest has been strong in widebodies, the 737-based BBJ is “what butters our bread,” he said. Of the 228 VIP aircraft sold, the BBJ accounts for 164. The push to fill varied needs is also helping drive interest in a BBJ Combi that can serve double duty for cargo and personnel transport. The company announced during ABACE in April that it would study the potential for such a product, based on the BBJ C, a cargo variant with a cargo door. Longridge said such a product could reach market within a couple of years–if the interest is there. But the company is going to hold off on a push toward development until it gets a launch customer.

The Combi would cater towards a government or business operation operating heavy machinery that needs to be transported along with a support team. He cited mining and oil-and-gas industries as possibilities. Longridge added that many customers who have looked at the cargo variant of the BBJ have asked about the potential of a combi configuration. Longridge does not expect a large customer base for such a configuration, but does think it would serve the needs of some customers.

While offering varied configurations, Longridge notes that the customer must dictate the design of the interior. While competitor Airbus is offering certain pre-set configuration designs, Longridge doubted that Boeing would duplicate that strategy. “I firmly believe when you are ready to spend that much money on an airplane, you should be able to [specify an individually designed] interior rather than be fed one.” He adds he can understand the approach of offering set configuration designs, but said that Boeing plans to take a different approach.

Boeing has been steadily building up completion capacity to accommodate both the wide- and narrow-bodies. The company has a network of 18 authorized completion centers capable of accommodating the 737-based BBJ and 10 that can handle widebodies. A number of the centers have work under way. Boeing expects that four 747s will come out the pipeline this year and one or two 787s. “This is going to be a great year for big aircraft,” he said.