MIAMI – Boeing is currently planning to create its next aircraft using new virtual design and engineering tools within the ‘Metaverse’.

The company wants its designers and engineers to use the virtual environment to interact with each other. It should also allow them to use new tools, such as computer-generated environments, according to Boeing’s chief engineer Greg Hyslop via an interview for Reuters.

The end of 2021 was not a great one for Boeing. While the manufacturer did get many orders at the Dubaï Air Show in November, with more than 100 aircraft ordered, its European competitor Airbus accumulated four times that of Boeing’s.

In December, airlines such as Qantas (QF), KLM (KL), Transavia (HV and TO), which are usually Boeing customers with many Boeing 737 NG in their fleet, ordered Airbus single-aisle aircraft. This was a disappointment for Boeing, which lost two loyal customers for the time being.

After two years with the Boeing 737 MAX grounded, Dreamliner production issues, and the global COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2021 was not the greatest for Boeing. However, with the MAX is flying again, orders are coming in, and air traffic is slowly recovering from the pandemic, or was before the Omicron variant came on the scene.

Now, the company is trying to recover from these crises as it looks to the future and plans its next aircraft.

These grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft exemplify how important this crisis was for Boeing. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

Using VR/AR to Design Aircraft

As for Boeing creating its next aircraft using new tools and technologies, “It’s about strengthening engineering…we are talking about changing the way we work across the entire company,” Greg Hyslop told Reuters.

Both Boeing and Airbus want to make the ‘metaverse’ work in aviation. Some companies already used it for their social media reach and for car manufacturing, but it is not known as of yet for aircraft manufacturing. But what is this Metaverse?

The Metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds whose focus has been mainly on social connections. In futurism and science fiction, the term is often described as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) headsets.

Boeing’s new virtual environment is said to bring together every piece of information about the aircraft. Boeing will be able to collect airline requirements, precise information about every part of the aircraft, and certification documents. It should also be useful for the supply chain, as it needs precise information about every part being built, helping to solve issues in a timely manner.

Hyslop said that more than 70% of Boeing’s quality issues can be traced back to “some kind of design issue.” The company thinks that such novel tools are efficient enough to bring an aircraft to the market fast. The chief engineer declared added, “You will get speed, you will get improved quality, better communication, and better responsiveness when issues occur.”

Hyslop also said that the tech is set to improve Boeing’s finances. “When the quality from the supply base is better, when the airplane build goes together more smoothly; when you minimize re-work, the financial performance will follow from that.” This solution is thus, according to him, able to solve many of Boeing’s problems.

Airlines should also be able to use special virtual tools for maintenance. Photo: Otto Kirchkof/Airways

Tech Challenges

This development transformation still faces numerous challenges. Indeed, some say that Boeing is not investing enough in R&D. Others point that even if this plan is worth pursuing, it won’t solve all of the company’s problems. It is a way of making things easier, but some say it won’t change everything that ails the company.

Additionally, entering the metaverse to develop aircraft will be costly to organize and implement. Boeing suppliers have been weakened by the COVID-19 and the 737 MAX crisis. It may be hard for them to foot the bill for the new technology, even if it is to be useful in the end.

One of the supply chain executives explained the challenges concerning this new technology. “They [Boeing] not only tell us what hardware we can buy, but they are also now going to specify all this fancy digital junk that goes on top of it?”

Granted, at some point, the Boeing 777X and the military trainer T-7A were built partially using digital tools. Today, these aircraft are still facing some technical problems and certification issues. However, Hyslop contends that “This is a long game. Every one of these efforts was addressing part of the problem. But now, what we want to do is do it from end to end.”

It is an interesting project for Boeing, and it could help the company recover from recent crises. Regardless, there are still major hurdles for the success of the metaverse aircraft dev plan, and only time will tell if it is a hit or miss for Boeing.

Featured image: The 777X is Boeing’s latest commercial jet. It has been built partially using digital/virtual tools. Photo: Nick Sheeder/Airways