The 7J7 was designed to replace thousands of aging Boeing-built 727s and 737s and McDonnell Douglas' DC-9s, models hauling passengers on most routes of up to 2,000 miles. To share the financial risks, Boeing has enlisted corporate partners from three countries. The Japanese [hence the "J"] had the biggest share of the program - 25 percent - through a new consortium of big manufacturing firms called the Japanese Aircraft Development Corp. Two established aircraft makers, Saab of Sweden and Britain's Short Bros., had smaller stakes. Boeing has guaranteed that it would maintain at least a 51 percent share of the project.
By 1986 the Boeing 7J7 airplane was in the preliminary design phase. Various advanced technologies were under development for application to this 150-passenger, short-to-medium-range airplane design. Specific areas of interest include the ultrahigh-bypass engines, advanced structural materials, electrical flight control signaling, active controls, advanced flight-deck displays, very high reliability avionics, and comprehensive onboard maintenance reporting. The preliminary design, technology development, and production development program as of 1987 was to lead to first deliveries in 1992.
Technological development has always played a crucial part in the highly competitive world of commercial aviation, but the last decade has seen a redirection of its importance by the increasing need to reduce operating costs. Thus, the role of technology is changing from making airplanes fly more passengers further and faster to making them fly the same payloads over the same ranges more economically. This changing emphasis is nowhere better illustrated than in the Boeing 7J7 where advanced technology must result in reduced cost to the airlines, or it will not be incorporated in the design. Boeing Co's avionics design philosophy for its planned 7J7 twin-engine transport promised dramatic increases in capability and reliability, and decreases in maintenance costs.
The Boeing 7J7 was powered by two GE36 UDF rear-mounted advanced technology contra-rotating unducted fan. Boeing benefited from de facto MITI subsidies and acquired components. Boeing hoped the 7J7 would burn about half the fuel of the Airbus A320.
At the time, Robert Reich referred to the Boeing 7J7 deal with Japan as a "Faustian Bargain." Three Japanese firms -- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries -- were to have a 25% equity participation in the 7J7 jetliner program. The US concern about Japanese participation in American aerospace programs stemmed from a formal Japanese government policy to become a leader in the industry. In the deal with the Japanese to develop the 7J7, Japan insisted on being included in development and marketing.
The steering group for the 7J7 program was called the Joint Program Board. The Joint Program Board was composed of senior executives from Boeing and JADC who met quarterly and at major program decision points. JADC was represented on this board by 25 percent of the voting members. Several major program decisions, such as "program go-ahead," cost standards, and weighted revenue sharing, required a unanimous decision.
During the 7J7 program, Boeing planned to use a proprietary rights agreement to "prevent our technology from flowing through them [7J7 program associates] to our competitors, or the competitors' technology being transferred to us." In addition, 7J7 program associates "must agree to invest at least as much in the Boeing project as they do in any potential competitor's effort". While the Japanese companies initially lacked some of the necessary technology and had fewer experienced engineers than Boeing, according to one Boeing engineer, "the Japanese made up for the difference with determination--they worked harder, they learned faster, and they worked longer hours."
Touted as the successor to the successful Boeing 727, it was intended as a highly fuel-efficient aircraft employing new technologies. In January 1988 development of the 7J7, which would have used a new type of propeller-driven engine called a prop-fan and lightweight materials for increased fuel efficiency, was delayed because lower fuel prices had eroded demand, and because the airlines could not come to a consensus on the proposed airplane's size. Boeing said after postponing the program, "market indicators continued to present different requirements on airplane size and configuration". Translation: Nobody wanted to buy one. Asked in late 1988 whether the 7J7 would ever be built, Philip Condit, executive vice president for production and engineering at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said: "As described at that point, probably not." In 1994 the Japanese aircraft industry, a partner with Boeing in planning the 7J7, suspended its 11-year-old agreement for the airliner.
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