Boeing’s industrial and cooperation strategy in the Middle East is now on track after a course correction some five years ago when the company realized it wasn’t involved enough with its customers or the countries in which they were based.

The company’s focus on deals and sales had caused Boeing to lose sight of the big picture of the development of the Middle East, and observers believe that was one reason it was late in forecasting the boom in demand for single-aisle airliners there.

“We want to be woven into the community,” says Jeff Johnson, who took over as president of Boeing Middle East in March 2011, and now leads the company’s 300 staff in the region.

“Yes, my job is to work on sales, but really it is to broaden our presence and partnerships with countries and customers. And that’s neither an easy nor quick thing to do.

“We changed the way we did business, and we’re showing that we’re here for the long term.”

On the military side, the moves to get to know its customers better range from a seemingly insignificant sponsorship of the Dubai International Air Chiefs’ conference here this year to increasing staff in Oman to support armed forces logistics. Later this year Boeing will add more staff in Kuwait in support of the its C-17 Globemaster III operations transport. These activities are all part of getting to know customers better and understanding their future needs, says Johnson.

On the corporate and commercial side, Boeing is working hard to help Middle East countries develop a niche in global aerospace or become qualified participants in Boeing’s global supply chain. A case in point: Strata Manufacturing, a green-field aerospace composites manufacturing plant launched four years ago in Al Ain with investment by Abu Dhabi’s financial arm, Mubadala. Boeing has contributed hardware and manufacturing know-how to qualify Strata as a Tier 1 supplier in the very near future. The company will first produce composite ribs for Boeing 777 tails, then 787 tail ribs, and ultimately will supply the vertical tails for the world’s 787 fleet, says Johnson.

Boeing has a different relationship in Qatar, where the airline and the Amiri flight are commercial customers and the armed forces operate the C-17 Globemaster III transport. Here, Boeing announced a joint research project with the Qatar Computing Research Institute to examine ways to better recognize patterns, correlations and anomalies in data produced by aerospace systems.

“We’re creating data analytics algorithms for health monitoring systems on Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft,” says Johnson. “That’s quite a niche.”

Other activities include supporting aerospace education, and helping develop future engineers. One program where Boeing is increasing its presence, rolling it out in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait, is INJAZ, where it helps identify budding entrepreneurs in high school and university, assists in incubating their business ideas and helps find venture capital. Two such ventures were helped in Egypt last year, attracting funding of $500,000 each from investors.

“You will continue to see us invest in many programs beyond sales,” says Johnson. “Our business strategy and plans align quite well in the region, and each country has a different vision of where it wants to go in aerospace or technology.”