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Boeing Live Event Coverage

Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

July 9, 2012 at 8:12 AM

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Boeing's Ray Conner charms at Farnborough and promises more jobs back home

At his first full news conference on the opening day of the Farnborough Air Show, new Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner exuded confidence and optimism about the future of the company.Conner at FAS12.jpg

Though he declined to give a specific employment projection, Conner said Boeing's emphasis on steeply raising production rates means "we'll be hiring a lot of new people in the course of the next few years" at the assembly plants in the Puget Sound area.

(Conner at the podium during the Boeing Commercial Airplanes press conference. My photo.)

Relaxed and easy in manner, wearing an elegant, tailored suit, Conner was asked by a journalist about the already apparent shift in personal style compared to his predecessor, Jim Albaugh.

Though Conner is certainly controlled enough not to stray from the corporate message and he didn't break any news so far in London, he definitely comes across as more laid back and personally self-assured, his phrasing of his responses more spontaneous than scripted.

It's a manner the press has come to expect from Airbus executives like EADS chief executive Tom Enders, a former paratrooper. It's more rare in the stiffer executive ranks at Boeing.

Conner demurred at the journalist's suggestion that he's flamboyant, which isn't the right word for his style. Instead, he settled for enthusiastic.

He said that like many long-timers in the aviation industry, he loves the business.

"We wake up every morning thinking what we can do to be No. 1," Conner said

"People that get into this business, they never leave," he added. "It is the most exciting industry in the world. I can't think of a better thing to be doing."

News tidbits from the press conference:

** Conner said the historic agreement the company signed with the Machinists union last year, and which he helped negotiate, is working "very well" so far.

"Hopefully, because the agreement is longer, we'll be able to create the terrific culture that is more about working together," he said. "Getting an agreement in place is very important as we start to bring people in and get them into the culture."

** Conner confirmed that it's up to Air India to move if it wants its 787 Dreamliners delivered. The state-run airline has serious internal troubles and hasn't yet gotten governmental approval for the funds to pay for the planes, .

"The planes are ready to deliver," Conner said. "When Air India is ready, we'll deliver."

One element of Conner's public persona that differs from that of some Airbus executives -- certainly from Airbus sales chief John Leahy -- is that he doesn't take outright swipes at the other company.

Instead, he almost ignored Airbus in his remarks, except for one off-the-cuff joke in response to another journalist suggestion.

Following the European jet-maker's decision to build an assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., he said he's "really looking forward" to welcoming Airbus into the Aerospace Industries Association, the U.S. aviation industry trade group.