As ever with any new aircraft programme there is plenty of speculation that it is going to be late. Often this speculation is correct – witness the delays to the Airbus A380.
Boeing, however, insists that the murmurings of its discontent about 787 progress, which include a critical analysts report and photos of composite parts that do not marry up on the assembly line, are being overblown.
Boeing is confident it can keep to its schedule to deliver the first 787 to Japan’s All Nippon Airways next year. Although 787 general manager Mike Bair admits there are “pockets that are behind”, overall the programme “right now is where we have to be”.
“We see nothing [to stop us] meeting our commitment to ANA to get their first airplane in May 2008,” says Bair.
Much has been made of the 787′s composite parts and how they could be tricky to, for want of a better word, stick together. Nothing of the kind, says Bair. “The fit of this is absolutely astounding.”
When Boeing attached the left hand wing to the first 787 the other day it was only 400 hundredths of an inch (just over 1mm) off being perfectly aligned. When making aircraft with standard metal wings the tolerance is usually about half an inch. For good measure, Bair said that when the right wing was attached it fitted perfectly.
This will do extremely good things for shortening assembly times.
Much like a plastic model aircraft kit, the 787 is being assembled rapidly as Boeing speeds towards the roll-out of the new widebody on 8 July. One part of the assembly, with the engine pylons being mated to the wing, took just 12 minutes.
One of the irritating problems with the programme has been a shortage of rather a mundane component – the fasteners used to hold aircraft parts together.
“Quite frankly it’s been a struggle to get fasteners,” says Bair, and this will continue for another 6-9 months. “The way we’re handling it is a fastener at a time.”