With $85 billion in annual revenues, Boeing (NYSE: BA) is quite literally the biggest airplane-building company in the world. Just one of its airplane models, the ubiquitous 737, has carried more than 16.8 billion passengers over its lifetime -- more than twice the population of the globe. So chances are, if you're breathing today, you've probably flown on a Boeing.
Yet as familiar as the Boeing brand is to us, there's still a lot about the company that a lot of people don't know. Here are just a few of those things.
1. Look up in the air! That's not Superman. That's a Boeing 737!
Take that 737, for example. You've probably heard that it's the "best-selling commercial aircraft in aviation history," right? More than 11,500 orders placed? More than 7,700 planes delivered?
What you may not know is what those numbers mean in practice. As a result of its immense sales success, there are now so many 737s in service around the globe that, on average, a 737 airplane takes off or lands somewhere around the globe once every two seconds. And any given moment, 2,000 of Boeing's 737 workhorses are probably airborne.
So yes, if you "look! Up in the sky!" -- chances are that thing you see with the sunlight glinting off it is neither a bird, nor a Superman, but a Boeing 737. Take that, EADS (NASDAQOTH: EADSY)!
2. Boeing's older than your grandfather -- and richer, too
Impressive as this sounds, it's actually old hat for Boeing. It's been 110 years since Orville and Wilbur Wright took their first powered air flight in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. But within just 13 years of the Wright Brothers' invention of the airplane, Boeing had invented the airplane company.
Founded by William E. Boeing in 1916 in Seattle, Boeing today employs roughly 175,000 people and has a presence in nearly half the countries on the globe. It sells $85 billion worth of merchandise annually, and while its 7.6% operating profit margin isn't the best in the business (that honor goes to Brazilian planemaker Embraer (NYSE: ERJ)), Boeing is 73% more profitable than archrival Airbus.
3. Boeing's come a long way (baby)
How did Boeing get so big, and so good at what it does? In part because the company's a high-tech wonder. We tend to take airplanes for granted. But did you ever wonder how they get made -- or where they get made?
Seventy-five percent of the commercial aircraft in use today were built by Boeing. Statistically speaking, most of the airplanes you've ever flown on probably got put together at Boeing's Everett Factory, just north of Seattle. By volume, Boeing's Everett factory is the largest building ever constructed. Bigger than the Pentagon. Bigger than the Mall of America. It's so big that at one point, Boeing's engineers were worried that clouds might form inside, near the ceiling. So they put in an air circulation system to prevent cloud formation. (How many companies have that problem?)
4. Planes in space
Everyone knows that Boeing builds planes. But did you know its high-tech expertise goes all the way into space? It's true. In 1995, Boeing joined forces with Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) to form the United Space Alliance, which helps NASA with space launch and recovery operations and mission planning and control, and it even trains astronauts for spaceflight. A decade later, Boeing and Lockheed integrated further by forming the United Launch Alliance, which performs space launches for the Department of Defense, NASA, and the National Reconnaissance Office.
Boeing "turned over the keys" of the International Space Station's on-orbit segment to NASA in 2010, but it still plays an integral role in integrating new components into the station.
5. A 21st-century technological wonder, with a workforce still living in the 1950s
At the same time as its technological achievements astound, in some ways Boeing is still a slave to tradition -- for example, in its employment practices. You've probably heard by now about some of the problems Boeing has been having with its labor unions. What you may not know, though, is that union negotiations and labor strikes are a problem fast becoming unique to Boeing.
According to The Wall Street Journal, 35% of American workers were members of one labor union or another back in the 1950s. Six decades later, that number's just 6.6% ... everywhere but at Boeing, where union membership soars to 39%. Twelve U.S. labor unions have Boeing workers on their rolls.
The two biggest players are the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers -- and Boeing literally cannot work without them. They comprise 13% and 21% of Boeing's workforce, respectively. And every five years or so, they begin new contract negotiations that threaten to bring the whole high-tech wonder that is Boeing to a screeching halt.
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