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Fred Gonzalez, Managing Editor
Dec 2020

Did you always want to work in aviation or did it kind of find you?
Aviation was something that always excited me. I was that kid in the farm land of Illinois always looking up when the military was flying supersonic over the continental U.S. and the sonic boom would happen. My uncle was a crop duster, and I got to help him. In college, I studied aeronautical and astronomical engineering, so that was kind of a jumping point into the industry. It was either that or be a farmer, and aviation was more inspiring, even though my brother still farms today and has the important job of feeding so many. So I jumped off from education right into the industry, and I've never looked at another industry. 

What is it like to work for Boeing during these challenging times?
When you talk to most Boeing employees, they were the kid that every time an airplane flew over they were looking up in the sky and imagining and dreaming. And I'm sure it's true for American Airlines employees. We all have an extreme passion for aviation and the coolness of being able to liberate yourself from the ground and fly where you want to go and connect to the world. That's inspiring. It certainly motivates me. Getting to run the commercial division of Boeing is just an awesome, awesome responsibility to motivate all of our people at Boeing because it's a team sport working across our three divisions to bring these wonderful innovations into the market and create something better that can change the world. 

It’s been a challenging year for everyone. What kind of upheavals has Boeing faced before?
As a little historical perspective, Boeing started in July 1916. So two years into its history, the great pandemic of the Spanish flu hit. Interestingly, our chief technical officer recently pulled out a memo from August 29, 1918, where management at that time made the workforce aware of protocols that were necessary to keep employees safe. That event probably influenced many of our designers at that point in history. When you think about when we got into the 1920s and 1930s, we started having people in close cabins aboard airplanes. And I think that point in time influenced our history to get to where we are today.

Stan Deal

Boeing’s Confident Travel Initiative—what is it and what is it doing to protect the health and safety of travelers?
As an industry, we all play a role in ensuring that the public has trust in us, and that air travel is safe. American Airlines has really set a powerful example with its Clean Commitment initiative, and largely what Boeing is doing is patterned after what American Airlines is doing. In May, we put together a small team of technical experts to really ensure the science was behind the safety of the air travel ecosystem. The Confident Travel Initiative was about making sure the science-based facts were in place for all of us to have a degree of confidence that people could travel safely.

What’s the first step in keeping COVID-19 out of the planes?
That responsibility, first and foremost, rests with us, the traveling public. We have to make sure if we're not feeling well, don't start the travel journey. Don't go to the airport. Don't get in the cabin. Just like we're practicing in our daily lives, whether it's going to work or going out to shop, the hygiene protocols of wearing masks, washing hands and using disinfectant wipes are important.

And how do you protect the airplane and keep it free from viruses?
One of the very first activities in the Confident Travel Initiative working with American Airlines and others was ensuring the protocol for sanitation and use of antibacterials and antimicrobials. We had a significant outreach with airlines around the world, with global manufacturers and also regulatory agencies to make sure protocols were well documented and understood and brought forward the best hygiene for the cabin. Certainly American Airlines is a key example of practice on that.

Can you discuss how the air-flow design in a plane’s cabin helps limit the potential transmission of the virus?
This is where 100 years of history designing airplanes through many adverse conditions has benefited the modern cabin design. The way air flows into the cabin, it doesn't travel laterally. It travels top to bottom and then gets evacuated at the floor, actually providing an air barrier for transmission. All modern airplanes and Boeing airplanes have a HEPA filter, the high-efficiency particle filters, which remove 99.9 percent of the virus. We've done research on this. Then think about the volume of air exchange in that cabin for our traveling public. Every two to three minutes, the entire volume of air in the aircraft is replaced. So in a passenger's daily life, there is no other environment they typically dwell in that is as safe as an airplane cabin. The research shows through a lot of modeling and analysis that those layers of protection in the cabin create the equivalent of about 7 feet of separation, even with passengers in the middle seat. That’s what the physical evidence is showing. Our traveling public should feel confident when they get in the cabin, not only is it clean from the hygiene that an airline like American does, but that whole air design and the filtering is providing an added layer of protection. When you add on top of that the protocol of continuing to wear a mask in the cabin, it's a very safe environment.

The design of the plane in relation to the air quality has been like this for a long time?
That's been the case for decades. That's where this historical perspective of designing airplanes over a century and being exposed to risks in the past have already influenced the design of the airplane to be a very safe environment. I have had no reservations about travel through the pandemic. My wife and I finally got our last child into college, so we don't have kids in the house anymore and we’ve been exploring the great outdoors. With our newfound freedom, I've never had any apprehension about flying. The protocols are working. And it's a lot better than going to the grocery store. 

Boeing conducts UV lighting research.

When it comes to the plane itself, what other innovations are you employing?
I think you are seeing new ways to clean. We are spearheading research around UV lighting, investigating how technology can be incorporated into cleaning protocols that airlines can take advantage of. We're looking at new and innovative surface materials that can go into cabins and have an inherent antimicrobial impact. So even out of this current situation, there will be evolution in design that continues to enhance the safety of the cabin. All of this is really exciting for our engineers who love challenges. 

Has Boeing been involved in the studies that have shown the risk of transmission of the virus on board airplanes is very low?
There's data emerging from a published report that substantiates out of 1.5 billion passengers who have flown over 16 million flights, there are fewer than 50 cases of suspected, not confirmed, transmission. That is a minimal rate relative to the exposure of people in their normal lives. We supported the research by the U.S. Transport Command that was widely reported and showed the effects of coughing and the limitation of the spread of the virus in an airplane cabin. And we have conducted with the University of Arizona a live virus experiment in the cabin to show and substantiate everything we've talked about in terms of cabin safety.

How do you increase consumer confidence?
Building awareness is the big challenge. The public must be aware both directly and through scientific, independent third-party validation that the airplane, as it is today, is already a safe environment. As we continue to engage with cleaning protocol, UV lighting and things of that nature, it just continues to get safer every day. The next opportunity around awareness is taking that science around the globe relative to government agencies that are setting policy and protocols for travel. Boeing's has played a key role in bringing that science forward and building that awareness.

Sometimes we focus on the science inside of the cabin, we forget how much Boeing is doing outside the plane to help the environment. What can you tell us about the work Boeing is doing around aviation biofuels?
Even before the advent of biofuels over the last 30 years, through technology, better propulsion and aerodynamic efficiency, we've already cut in half the emissions connected with a passenger traveling today versus 30 years ago. So it's a great track record, but that's one point in time, and we all need to continue. Biofuels is that natural next step. Boeing has been very active over the last 10 years to ensure the airplanes that we manufacture and build are certified and capable of flying with blended biofuels. And we see that continuing to expand. Biofuels is the right, smart mix because we have so many airplanes around the globe today that it's a step that can be enacted in order to decarbonize, if you will, for the next 20 to 30 years. We have proven that substituting jet fuel with biofuels reduces the lifecycle of carbon-based emissions by up to 80 percent.

But is there enough biofuel to go around?
Our efforts now are turned to the industry side of manufacturing biofuels. That's the next problem we all have to solve—creating a readily available supply that is physically available for every airline to consume. We need to ensure that investments are being made toward the industrialization of the production of bio fuels. That's kind of the next bastion, but we've also continued to explore and will innovate efficiencies on our aircraft in the longer term. We're very happy with the performance that a product like a 737 brings to the market, the 737, the 787 and the 777. They all are the most efficient airplanes in terms of emissions from jet fuel. And on the horizon will be new technologies with respect to aerodynamic enhancement. Beyond fuels, we'll look at propulsion technology that uses the next wave of environmental responsibility.

When you start to plan out these initiatives are you planning on 20, 30 years down the road, or 10 or 20? How do you set the calendar?
For this next 10 to 20 years, the substitution with biofuels will be important and as we move into that next horizon, we could start to see alternatives to propulsion. We've all been investing in electric and hybrid, and the other technology we've been investing in is hydrogen fuel cells. Those are on that longer term horizon, beyond 20 to 30 years, but that work has to start today. You have to have some investment on the board around multiple technologies. Some of this gets fueled by what's happening on the ground in the transportation and automotive industry, but as an aviation industry, we have to do our part, too. It's too early to predict which specific technologies of those will emerge, but we have to work on all those alternatives now to ensure in that 20 to 30 year horizon we've got an opportunity to decarbonize aviation.

How will the future of aviation be reshaped?
At Boeing we do believe airlines and the passengers they carry want to travel point-to-point to a destination with minimal stops. A lot of our product innovation is centered around that very efficient airplane that allows the airlines to pass on competitive ticket prices to new destinations on a point-to-point basis. One of my favorite destinations is Dallas to Maui, and I enjoy the fact that I can fly nonstop. I think many consumers and passengers like that feature. That was only possible with economic and environmental efficiency that was driven by these newer airplanes. The 787 is a great example. American flies our flagship 787 around the globe and it's opened up more than 200 new destinations on a point-to-point basis. That's important. Also, communications in the cabin has been an important aspect for passengers, and Boeing's played a role to help usher that in and allow people to get access to the outside world while they're on their travel journey. Working closely with the airlines, I think you will continue to see innovation around digital technology and comforts in the cabin. Boeing will continue to invest there for the long term with its airline partners. 

You are really listening to what your customer wants, based on what they hear from passengers?
Think about what's changed in the cabin. Overhead bins. That's something that's not very glamorous but is very important to the consumer. Changing the overhead bin size to be able to accommodate the current traveler needs, those evolve over time. But making it easier to access the bin with more capacity and volume, that was something Boeing was on the forefront of innovating. It really helped the airlines, helped their consumers and made the travel experience a little more enjoyable, which is what this industry is all about.

Boeing has played a role in defining and shaping travel. How do you incorporate that into your company culture?
This is an industry that has evolved over time, so recounting our history is an important way to pass the inspiration of getting to change the world through each innovation we make. Then there is the noble responsibility of getting to open up the world and make it a smaller place by connecting people. Plus, advancing safety each and every step of the way has also been core to our culture. So part of it is re-telling our history so each generation can learn while continuing to point to the future and giving our creative teams and our engineering teams some space to dream and explore what might be possible. 

That rich culture must make a difference when facing the current global challenges.
Nothing else inspires me more than this job. And even in the crisis we face with the pandemic, I and most employees find something to get inspired by by coming to work. They wake up every morning and there's a new challenge or opportunity to conquer. We'll get through it. People will be confident and travel again, and we're convinced the trajectory for travel will be right back where it was. The world will be a smaller place. We truly believe that people have to connect to see each other and explore their ambitions. Travel is not going to change adversely as a result of this pandemic.

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