In a one-on-one interview at the Paris Air Show today, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Alan Mullaly...

Share story


In a one-on-one interview at the Paris Air Show today, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Alan Mulally, talked with Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates about Airbus, the pending sale of the company’s Wichita operations, and the reasons behind Boeing’s recent sales momentum.

Q: What do you think of the A380?

A: It’s a really big plane. I know big airplanes. It’s stubby. It looks like it should be stretched to have smoother aerodynamic lines. The wing is really big.

It’s a big airplane for a small market.

Q: Can you comment on the sale of Boeing Wichita to (Canadian investment firm) Onex. The sale is proving brutal for workers there – More than 1,000 layoffs, reduced benefits for the rest.

A: Onex is trying to restructure Wichita to pay at market rates and get the flexibility and competitiveness they need to grow that business.

It’s really tough short term. But they are doing the right thing for Wichita long term. It definitely is hard.

Q: Do you have plans for any further sales?

A: We don’t. No plans.

Q. Is the acrimony in Kansas going to poison labor relations here? Will you ask Puget Sound workers to go to lower “market rates” too?

A. No. It’s different in every place. We in Seattle have been (at market rate) for a number of years. The IAM especially had gotten off market rates in Wichita.

Q: Any worries about delivering the 787 on its tight schedule, and with this whole new manufacturing process?

A: It’s what we do. Is it a big job? Yes. We’re really focused on it. I’m really pleased with the progress. I review it every week.

Q: Boeing has got a lot of sales success this year. But Airbus is now beginning to question the quality of some customers. Primaris, with an order for 20 787s is still trying to put the money together. Airbus chief salesman John Leahy has criticized the recent Lion Air win, saying that airline doesn’t have the money. Is there more risk attached to the new sales success?

A: We have a lot of start-up airlines. Will some of them fail? Sure. But we’ll still sell the airplanes. They’ll go somewhere. We are not delivering more airplanes than are needed.

Q: Is lower pricing than was previously possible a factor in the sales success too?

A: Yes. With all of our work improving quality and production, we have shared that saving with our customers.

Q: Your recent success (was) preceded by talk of a loss of sales focus. Was that the case?

A: When you went through what we went through in the last four years, … [fixing prduction problems and then rescheduling 600 aircraft deliveries after 9/11] clearly that’s a really big focus.

Could we have spent more time during that period on certain key customers? Absolutely.

Q: And now?

A: We’re all over it.

Q: Can Boeing continue to function well without a CEO?

A: Nothing has changed as far as my interaction with the board. I’m supported 100 percent. The 747 Advanced is on the agenda for the June board meeting. We haven’t missed a step. It’s gone very smoothly.

Q: Will you stay at Boeing if you are passed over for the top spot?

A: I don’t look at it that way. If Boeing offered me another opportunity, I would consider it.

But I treasure my relationships with employees at Boeing. It makes me feel bad for employees at Boeing when (the press) speaks about me leaving.