Boeing faces hurdles, opportunities on the road to an on-time 787 entry into service

According to multiple sources inside the 787 program, Boeing has delayed delivery of major structural parts for Dreamliner Two indefinitely as work feverishly continues on preparing Dreamliner One for its first flight this fall.

Put simply, there is a small bottleneck inside of Building 40-26 at the Boeing factory in Everett interfering with deliveries. Two of the four final assembly positions are in use. The first position in the rear of the factory is occupied by the Static Rig (ZY997), the second by Dreamliner One (ZA001).

Dreamliner One continues to undergo extremely extensive structural and systems assembly and is currently jacked up off its landing gear surrounded by scaffolding, making the forward movement to make way for the Static Rig difficult until it returns to pavement.

Dreamliner One undergoing extensive assembly in Everett

In addition, Flightblogger has learned that once deliveries do resume, the Fatigue Test Rig (ZY998) will be delivered prior to Dreamliner Two (ZA002).

Mary Hanson, spokeswoman for the 787 program confirmed that a change in the delivery schedule existed, “The 787 program has directed several structural partners to re-look at their ship dates on [Dreamliner Two] and complete systems, wiring and other critical installations before shipping to final assembly.”

Hanson added that the delay has nothing to do with Dreamliner One, and felt the characterization of the schedule change as a postponement or delay was not accurate, and that first flight, certification and entry into service are not affected by this decision. Hanson also declined to comment on the bottleneck inside Building 40-26.

According to sources, Boeing’s public stance on the delay is accurate with regard to the travel work; however the delay in deliveries is in part due to the around-the-clock singular focus of the final assembly team on preparing Dreamliner One for its maiden flight.

With Dreamliner One in its current position, there is no room in the rear of the factory to begin final assembly of the Fatigue Test Rig or Dreamliner Two. Delivery of Dreamliner Two structures from South Carolina, Kansas, Japan and Italy were all initially planned for an August 18 timeframe.

In addition, Dreamliner One still has yet to have its tail, engines, wing-body fairing, flaps and landing gear doors reinstalled following a comprehensive disassembly which occurred after the July 8th roll-out ceremony.

“Boeing is doing everything they can to finish the job but there are jobs that just cannot be sped up,” said one Boeing employee with knowledge of the program.

Testing on the Static Rig needs to take place three doors down in Building 40-23, which is located between the 747 and 767 final assembly lines. Before the Static Rig can move to Building 40-23, Dreamliner One must be rolled out of the factory. The width of Building 40-26 is only large enough to accommodate one 787 at a time.

According to sources who have seen Boeing’s internal schedules the Static Rig is tentatively scheduled to move out of 40-26 on August 23. The move will take place during the late night shift change just as it did for the appearance of Dreamliner One when it left the factory for the paint shop on June 25.

The indefinite delay of continued deliveries to Everett present a distinct problem for Boeing, which has an ambitious nine month flight test program planned. The test program will employ four aircraft (ZA001-ZA004) as the 787 Dreamliner seeks certification with Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines for entry into service in May of 2008 with All Nippon Airways.

Without a second, third and fourth 787 to quickly join Dreamliner One on the rigorous flight test regime, Boeing will be hard-pressed to meet its May 2008 EIS goal. As an important point of comparison, the first and second 777 aircraft flew 32 days apart in 1994 and the third 777 followed just 22 days later. The 777, the last all-new Boeing aircraft, completed an eleven-month, five aircraft flight test certification program in April 1995. The 787 certification program will likely have to match or exceed the pace of aircraft introduction on the 777 program to meet its goals.

Facilities in Charleston and Wichita are working around-the-clock to prepare 787 fuselage sections for final assembly and delivery to Everett. The first 787 fuselage pieces delivered to Everett were almost entirely bare of systems and represented mainly the structural shell of the aircraft. Extensive “travel work” is being currently performed by the final assembly team in Everett to install wiring, ducting, insulation and systems for the first 787.

The indefinite delay in deliveries to Everett could also provide an opportunity for Boeing to test its groundbreaking business model. Boeing hopes that by delaying deliveries to Everett, they can allow the 787 subcontractors to more fully complete the assembly of follow-on aircraft fuselage sections.

Section 46 for ZY998 arrives in Charleston

The deferment of assemblies will allow for independent work to be done outside of Puget Sound, enabling the Everett-based final assembly and delivery team to continue its focus on Dreamliner One. Once Dreamliner One has been fully assembled, the follow-on fuselage structures can be joined in less time in hopes of keeping the flight test, certification and delivery on track.

Hanson added, “To allow traveled work to continue to flow from our partners into final assembly would deter the 787 program from setting up the Lean production system we envision. [The change] is necessary and will enable the program to get the right production system up and running over the long term.”

Another source, a veteran engineer of Boeing commercial aircraft programs, including the 787, is concerned about the planning moving forward.

“Boeing needs to look at the certification date and work backwards from those milestones looking at how to achieve this program goal by goal. Right now they are moving forward, but there’s no connection between milestones.”

Deliveries to sub-contractors are expected to continue with fuselage sections arriving in Charleston from Italy and Japan; however no timeline for the next deliveries appear to be in place.

The veteran engineer added, “There’s a lot of energy and time being wasted. Teams all over the globe are ready to work. The [Large Cargo Freighter] should be moving empty fixtures back to their respective partners’ manufacturing locations. This could be done while Evergreen International flight crews are doing required training. Forward motion is essential – even if it’s slow progress, it’s still progress.”