Boeing Co. and its suppliers have turned to giant, Ukrainian-made cargo jets to keep its supply chain running smoothly, partially in response to disruptions at U.S. West coast ports from a recent labor dispute there.
The aerospace giant’s top commercial-airplane executive on Tuesday said disruptions have continued even after the parties in that disagreement reached a deal earlier this month. A Boeing spokesman said separately that some suppliers had tasked massive Antonov An-124 cargo planes to accelerate deliveries to Boeing.
The slowdown “was extremely tough for us, we barely got through this and we’re still dealing with the congestion of all the things that are stuck in those ports right now, trying to get parts out,” Ray Conner, chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said at an industry event in Washington, D.C.
Boeing’s factories, which are running at record output to meet demand for jetliners, rely on an enormous global network of suppliers and their just-in-time shipments to its final assembly lines.
The company spokesman said there had been no effect on deliveries to airlines from the ports snarls. He said Boeing has worked closely with its suppliers to “mitigate potential disruption to service.”
The Antonov jet has been a frequent sight at Boeing’s facilities in the Pacific Northwest recently, flying from origins including Nagoya, Japan.
The four-engine Antonov, which is larger than Boeing’s 747 jumbo aircraft, has a cargo door in the nose and can carry a payload of up to 330,000 pounds—nearly the weight of two of Boeing’s 737 single-aisle jets when fully loaded with passengers, luggage and fuel.
Boeing and its suppliers have used the jets before to carry huge parts like wings and fuselage panels, but the Antonovs have taken on an increased role recently, even for cargo not coming from the Pacific.
General Electric Co. said separately that it had dispatched an the An-124 to airlift GEnx engines for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
According to a March 4 regulatory filing with the Transportation Department, GE hired the Antonov jet to deliver 12 engines on a pair of flights from Columbus, Ohio, to Seattle. A GE spokesman said the flights were needed when parts for a subcontractor ran behind schedule.
Boeing delivered 16 787s with GE engines during the first two months of the year and a spokesman for the engine maker said “less than a third” of the engine deliveries so far in 2015 had traveled by Antonov cargo plane.