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Originally published July 8, 2012 at 7:26 PM | Page modified July 9, 2012 at 11:08 AM

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Boeing's new jet boss Ray Conner a born salesman

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner aims to close lots of jet deals at this week's Farnborough Air Show.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Ray Conner

Named president

and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) on June 26

Age: 57

Previously: Led sales, marketing and commercial-aviation services for BCA from August 2010.

Earlier roles: Put in charge of BCA's global supply chain in December 2008, including all Boeing's internal fabrication operations. For the year before that, vice president of sales for BCA. Also served as head of the 777 and 747 programs.

Source: Boeing

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On the eve of the Farnborough Air Show, Ray Conner — the new chief executive at Boeing Commercial Airplanes — showed some of the swagger of a top salesman Sunday.

In a book-lined conference room at a fancy London hotel, Conner faced a small group of journalists in his first media appearance since his abrupt ascension to the top job June 26.

Conner's responses to their questions betrayed an intense competitiveness even though he didn't disclose any specific news.

It was a performance with a style closer to that of Airbus sales chief John Leahy than to the earnest approach of Conner's predecessor, Jim Albaugh, a former engineer.

Will Boeing beat Airbus on orders this year? Without committing to a specific prediction, Conner's answer spoke of ambition.

"It's always important to be number one," Conner said. "You don't want to be number two."

Does he share Albaugh's publicly stated goal to achieve parity in the single-aisle jet market between the 737 MAX and the rival Airbus A320neo?

"Parity? I thought (the goal) was 100 percent," Conner said, with a big smile. "You're talking to a sales guy. I don't want to lose any."

Does he feel pressure at this air show, with all the advance expectations that Boeing's 737 MAX must begin to catch up with the A320neo?

"I feel pressure all the time," Conner replied. "Every order is a precious thing. We want to win as many as we possibly can."

Boeing has 474 orders for the 737 MAX, as of Friday, compared with Airbus' more than 1,300 orders for the neo.

Conner said he'll be "doing a little double duty" at the show, on the one hand the CEO, on the other closing lots of deals as chief sales guy. Before his elevation to CEO, he led sales, marketing and commercial-aviation services for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Exuding confidence, he allowed one moment of deliberate understatement. Conner said Boeing will have "a decent show" and "a good year."

Conner said he's "really excited" to be promoted to the top job at a moment when he sees Boeing as poised to make big gains "both in the marketplace and in production."

He said he isn't concerned about Airbus' decision to build airplanes in Mobile, Ala., adding U.S. airlines don't buy locally.

"I don't think our customers really care where the airplanes are made," he said.

And he spoke glowingly of the strides Boeing is making in production.

He conceded this isn't apparent yet in the delivery rate of the 787. Despite a rollout rate from the Everett factory of 3.5 per month, only six Dreamliners went to customers in the first half of the year.

Conner blamed the buildup of early planes that require modification before delivery.

"That's taken longer than we anticipated," he said. "That's probably been the thing that has slowed us down the most."

But in five years' time, he said, the Dreamliner "will be rolling out like nobody's business ... out in the marketplace pretty heavily and flying around everywhere."

Gulf Coast celebrates Airbus

Sunday evening in the main hall of the Banqueting House at Whitehall in London, under a high, ornate ceiling painted by Dutch master Peter Paul Rubens in 1636 to celebrate the union of England and Scotland, four U.S. Gulf Coast states celebrated a grand coup: the snagging of an Airbus final-assembly plant for Mobile, Ala.

The reception put on by the Aerospace Alliance comprising Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana was a networking and social event, the prelude to a round of business meetings at the air show the rest of the week.

The governors of the first three states were present; the fourth sent a representative. Attendees including U.S. senators and congressmen sipped wine and nibbled hors d'oeuvres.

On a small stage, a string quartet played. Toward the end, the crowd thinned as people left to attend the numerous other aerospace receptions and dinners around central London on Sunday evening.

That's when the new chief executive of Airbus, Fabrice Bregier, arrived with his wife, Tatiana. He said his welcome in Mobile last week made him feel at home.

Mobile, he said is "a perfect fit" for Airbus.

Congressman Jo Bonner of Mobile, Ala., said Airbus' plan to create an A320 final-assembly line in his city has delighted people in the southern U.S., who see aerospace as "a global industry, a very important part of our future."

In Alabama, he said, it's expected to have an effect akin to that of Mercedes-Benz, which in 1997 opened a plant to build automobiles in Vance, Ala. The state is now in the top five nationwide for auto manufacturing, said Bonner.

"Fifteen years ago, we didn't make a single car," he said.

Yet Bonner said it's not just an Alabama win, since the Airbus plant will indirectly create jobs in Mississippi and Florida.

"This is really something for the Gulf Coast," Bonner said.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he expects about 1,000 jobs will be created nearby in his state, initially in construction and then at the Airbus plant or at suppliers.

Bryant said the four states had worked together to land Airbus, pooling their strengths.

The first of those was political influence at a time when Airbus was wooing Congress to win the Air Force tanker contract. Airbus, he said, could call on eight U.S. senators and all the congressmen from the four states for support. For Airbus and its parent company, EADS, "it's a circle of influence. That's the concept," said Bryant.

Airbus nonetheless suffered a stinging loss last year when the tanker contract was awarded to Boeing. That intense competition raised tensions between politicians in the Pacific Northwest and their counterparts on the Gulf Coast.

But Bonner wants to put the tanker behind him, and the Mobile commercial-jet assembly plant is a perfect salve for that wound.

"We have to move past yesterday, and we're looking at tomorrow," Bonner said. "Competition is good. It's the American way."

For the A320 plant, said Bryant, the four states also have combined to multiply the workforce, research dollars and supplier network available to Airbus. In addition, they offered cheap electricity and financial incentives.

Tom Darcy, EADS vice president of defense and electronics, said the real benefit to his company will be the change in political perception when it bids for future U.S. military work.

Other governments require industrial offsets — part of the work must be performed in their country — in exchange for big military contracts, Darcy said.

"The U.S. is no different," he said. EADS will benefit because the Airbus move "demonstrates to the Department of Defense the commitment to grow the EADS industrial base in the U.S."

Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, agreed that the Mobile plant will help get future work.

"Once you are an industrial citizen, once you have planted the flag and created industrial jobs in America, it's a springboard to lots of things, whether military or otherwise," McArtor said.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Big 737 order near

from GE Capital

Boeing is poised to win an order for 100 737 narrowbody aircraft from General Electric's jet-leasing unit, two people with knowledge of the transaction said Sunday.

GE Capital Aviation Services' purchase includes 75 upgraded 737 MAX planes, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they aren't authorized to discuss the deal.

— Bloomberg News

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