Cheers heard here for first 787 Dreamliner

October 1, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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After a three-year delay, All Nippon Airways took possession of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger aircraft in Japan last week — much to the delight of hundreds of employees at GE Aviation sites in West Michigan.

At the GE Aviation-Muskegon plants (formerly known as Johnson Technology) in Port City Industrial Park and Norton Shores Industrial Park, employees were "very happy," having watched the Dreamliner saga unfold for a long period of time, according to the Muskegon operations president David Yacavone.

"We've been starting and stopping quite a bit as that Dreamliner has been delayed," said Yacavone. He added, however, that overall, GE has been shipping engines pretty steadily to Boeing for its new lines of aircraft, including the Dreamliner.

More than 800 Dreamliners have been ordered by airlines around the world since the first order for 50 was placed in 2004 — the largest order ever placed for a newly introduced airliner.

The Dreamliner has been called the world's most anticipated new airliner. However, it is not the largest nor does it have the longest range; its claim to fame is being built of lightweight composite materials that reduce its weight dramatically. Consequently, the Dreamliner will use about 20 percent less fuel than other similar-size aircraft in use today.

GE Aviation-Muskegon manufactures six parts for the turbine "hot section" in GE's new GEnx engine, which is going into some of the Dreamliners and also will be used in Boeing's new 747-8 wide-body aircraft. The Dreamliner is a twin-engine aircraft while the 747-8 has four engines.

The GEnx is said to be the fastest-selling high-thrust jet engine in GE Aviation history, according to a spokesman for the company in New York.

Business is so good for GE Aviation-Muskegon that the Norton Shores plant is being expanded by 31,000 square feet, according to Yacavone. The company is up to 574 employees and has been hiring since February of last year, he said, including more employees for the GEnx engine parts lines.

"Currently, we have 52 salaried and hourly personnel working on those six product lines that we make for each engine. We have been hiring and we will continue to hire into that area — I'd say probably another 10."

Yacavone said the company employment roster should be around 602 by next year. "We've been doing real well throughout the whole downturn in Michigan. We've been hiring right along and growing," he added.

Yacavone said sales for the GE Aviation Muskegon facilities are predicted to grow at almost 15 percent on average over 2012 and 2013.

He said a lot of expensive, high-tech manufacturing equipment — much of it made in Michigan — has been acquired for the two plants. The parts they make in Muskegon and Norton Shores are difficult to make because they are used in the hottest section of the jet engine and thus subjected to tremendous stress, said Yacavone.

The "common core system" in the Dreamliner — essentially, it's brain and central nervous system — was developed and tested at GE Aviation Systems in Kentwood. The CCS is described as the aircraft's backbone for its computers, networks and interfacing electronics, and provides the primary computing environment for the Dreamliner.

During the three-year development program, GE added about 75 engineering and administrative personnel at the Kentwood facility, for a total of 400 local employees at work on the CCS for the Dreamliner. Now that the actual development of the system is done, most of the people who were involved in that stage have been assigned to other projects, such as the new Air Force in-flight refueling tanker, according to George Kiefer, vice president and general manager of Avionics North America, GE Aviation.

"The mood at the company is ecstatic," said Kiefer. "It is a lot of work to go through a development like this. It takes years and a lot of personal sacrifice from people, and to see all of this come together and be the start of a new technology that's out in the field, we're very pleased to be a part of that."

GE Aviation Systems also is providing the integrated landing gear system for the Dreamliner, which controls deployment and retraction of the landing gear, including the nose landing gear. In addition to the normal package of mechanical hardware, GE provides the flight deck interfaces and local control electronics.

All Nippon Airways "is redefining air travel, and the 787 Dreamliner will help take that experience to a new level," said Lorraine Bolsinger, president and CEO of GE Aviation Systems.

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