ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — Boeing’s future in autonomy and reevaluated supply chain: CEO Dave Calhoun elaborates.

Boeing's forthcoming clean-sheet aircraft signifies the company's ongoing drive towards safety augmentation via automation, as well as a reevaluation of its command over its proprietary design and supply chain, stated CEO Dave Calhoun.

In an interview with Aviation Week, preceding the Paris Air Show, Calhoun refrained from pinpointing a timeline for Boeing's new aircraft launch. Instead, he cast light on the company's strategy for its upcoming design. The underpinnings for this new course of action were anchored in increased autonomy and, presumably, reduced supplier dependency.

In his discourse, Calhoun clarified Boeing's objectives, asserting that they don't encompass autonomous, transport-category aircraft or removal of pilots from the cockpit. "These advancements are within reach, but do not align with our primary intent," he stated.

Rather, the focus leans towards incorporating autonomous systems that harmonize with routine, existing features like autopilots, aimed to help lower commercial aviation's already miniscule risk of fatal accidents.

He praised the continuous betterment of aviation safety, but also acknowledged the obstacles. The biggest aggregation of these roadblocks, he suggested, is human error. "Therefore, for me, the case for autonomy is inherently a safety argument."

European endeavours, including a study by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, have spurred pilots' unions to voice their disapproval for having less than two pilots in the cockpit or the design of larger aircraft for single-pilot or autonomous operations.

Calhoun speculated that the final ruling on reduced-crew operations will likely be contingent on regulatory approval, rather than the manufacturers' development capability.

He opined, "Technically, we're on track to approach autonomous operations as closely as conceivable, possibly even achieving it." He added, "In my view, this is a decision for regulators. I believe we'll witness a variety of applications in the future. However, our immediate priority should be to continue the safety enhancement trajectory the industry has been following."

As for the construction of the next Boeing aircraft, Calhoun envisions a shift in the relationship dynamics between the company and its suppliers, compared to the 787, the company's last new clean-sheet design. With the 787, Boeing heavily relied on suppliers for design and manufacturing, betting that the financially favorable risk-sharing approach wouldn't result in any bottlenecks. However, a series of supplier-linked issues has beleaguered the program for years, triggering significant rework, including a recently discovered issue, to ensure compliance with Boeing’s design and production standards.

Reflecting on the 787 experience, Calhoun noted, "At that time, the industrial sector in the United States was focused on a capital-light approach, and Boeing followed suit. I think we may have overextended in that direction. My aim is to swing the pendulum back to exercise more control over the vertical and claim more of the intellectual property. The extent of this shift is uncertain, but it's a radical departure from the team's original objectives for the 787."

Boeing has initiated measures towards more vertical integration and in-house manufacturing of additional parts, addressing urgent issues and rebalancing its regular production, for instance, the 737 MAX and 777-9 nacelle parts. New aircraft projects, with their inherent upfront supplier agreements, provide increased opportunities.

Reflecting on the company's manufacturing capabilities, Calhoun stated, "Our extensive fabrication operation has been instrumental in overcoming many of these constraints. The transformative step in this regard will coincide with our next airplane. That’s the juncture when we ask, 'What were the origins of these bottlenecks? How did we construct that supply chain from the onset?'"