Air Transport World

777 delivers. (Boeing aircraft)

The Boeing 777 plays tricks on a person's perceptions. The great diameter of its husky turbofans distorts one's sense of scale, so that from a small distance, the aircraft appears to be only a bit larger than a 767. Not until it is approached closely or is seen near another airplane does its true size become obvious.

The same might be said of the perception of the 777's importance to Boeing and to the airline industry. At first glance, it can be viewed as just another product, plugging the gap in the family between the 767-300 and the 747-400, giving the industry yet another option in the crowded sub747 widebody market.

For the industry, its significance should not be minimized. The 777 will provide the largest twin-engine answer to increasingly scarce airport slots and mushrooming markets, while pressuring competitors to match its price, benefits and useful technology.

For Boeing, however, the 777 is both a jump forward in systems sophistication and the template for doing business in the next century. The way in which Boeing designed, developed and tested the 777 will be replicated over and over, with each succeeding Boeing project, derivative and new.

This month's 777 certification and initial deliveries to launch customer United airlines complete just the first phase of a development process that can be labeled--without qualification-unprecedented. "Some 60% of all latent problems in aircraft have been discovered in their first year of service," says Joseph W. Ozimek, Boeing director-product marketing. "Now, we're taking that first year on us."

Boeing and its suppliers pushed testing to new heights to ensure a smooth service entry. Of all of the charts and graphs, and demonstrations of that testing process, a shake rig at Pratt & Whitney's Connecticut plant stands out as the most clearly descriptive not only of the extent of the testing but of the value of the process. …

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