First activation of the Boeing 787s electrical system is likely to slip again, forcing first flight and entry into service further back into 2009.
Power-on could occur as early as mid-April according to senior Boeing representatives, yet, internal assessments of the pace of work on Dreamliner One suggest that the milestone could slip to June with slightly more than half of the 600 jobs, or tasks, remaining before power-on.
At least one 787 customer, who spoke with FlightBlogger on the condition of anonymity, has been told by the manufacturer that power-on will likely slip to June.
Boeing was unreachable for comment on the entirety of this report, however, sources familiar with the situation say that the airframer has not formally notified any customers to changes in the power-on schedule.
Paperwork and Design Changes Slowing Assembly
According to program sources, the slow pace of work in recent months can largely be attributed to what are known as rejection tags. Those tags occur when a discrepancy exists between the design and the product. For example, during the normal manufacturing process, holes are drilled to install fasteners. Occasionally, those holes have to be drilled a second time if there is an issue with the first hole. As a result, the hole is considered to be “non-conforming” requiring a larger diameter fastener and must be checked through a quality certification process.
One foundational tenet of the 787 program, according to program sources working with the aircraft, was the idea of a “super-mechanic” who held all the necessary certifications to self check work to appropriate airworthiness standards.
According to sources across the program, over the past year of assembly the self-certification process has become an impediment to progress rather than an enabler of efficiency.
As a result, the 787 program has begun to shift from a system of self-certifying manufacturing staff to a more traditional system of quality assurance similar to Boeing’s legacy programs. The revised system is first being implemented for out-of-sequence traveled work and is expected to be expanded to the entire final assembly process.
The revised system is a “positive step,” says one person working with the aircraft.
By using its traditional quality assurance system, Boeing is able to better control and group the number of rejection tags to reduce paperwork and solution time. For example, under the original system, four non-conforming holes in the same area of the aircraft were filed as four individual issues rather than just one. The new system would streamline the process by grouping these rejection tags together, cutting paperwork, in this example, by 75%.
At another level, minor, yet time consuming, design changes are occupying significant resources.
Often, “Parts are not delivered and substituted with different parts or mechanics make mistakes. Sometimes design error makes it impossible to build as designed,” said one source familiar with the situation.
Each redesign has to go through an extensive process that slows the path to power-on.
Boeing released a statement on the subject as this analysis was going through final revisions:
“It is normal during the development of a new airplane to discover the need for design enhancements. We are working with our partners to address the need for design changes in some areas. While these changes are not good for final assembly because they are dealing with traveled work at this time, the design changes are not the sole pacing item.”
Traveled Work Still a Challenge
As traveled work arrives in Everett, the completion of assembly varies greatly amongst supplier partners. If you walk from one end to another, Dreamliner Two looks like a, “Timeline from nose to tail. The farther you go back, the more work it needs,” says a 787 program staffer.
The front of the aircraft, Section 41, the nose section, was delivered from Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kansas 97% complete, according to program sources in Everett.
The center fuselage, say sources in Charleston, which is assembled at Global Aeronautica in Charleston contained significant wiring, flight test equipment, ducting, systems and insulation in the forward Section 43 and the center wing box, but significantly less in Sections 44 and 46 toward the rear of the aircraft.
The aft fuselage, Sections 47 and 48, which is manufactured and assembled by Vought Aircraft Industries, is the largest source of traveled work, according to sources in Everett and Charleston. The aft fuselage, which was delivered in early February, had roughly a dozen jobs remaining before it could be considered structurally complete. It lacked any wiring, ducting, insulation or systems when it departed Charleston for Everett.
With the next quarter beginning, according to schedules, all flight test aircraft are scheduled to be undergoing final assembly in Everett by the middle of the year.
Center fuselage sections for Dreamliner Three and Four are currently undergoing assembly at the Global Aeronautica plant in Charleston. Major structures for Dreamliner Five have not yet arrived for integration in South Carolina from Italy and Japan.
Spirit Aerosystems has produced 21 forward fuselage shipsets which are at various levels of completion. Five have been delivered to Boeing, four of which are going through final assembly and one for additional structural testing. The pace of manufacturing these nose sections, according to sources in Wichita, have been so brisk that production has been forced to slow and structures are being wrapped for storage on site. In some cases, staff has been diverted to other areas to best utilize resources.
Even with the slow pace of the program, progress is still being made. According to sources working with the test flight aircraft, major components for the flight deck of Dreamliner One have arrived on the factory floor and are being prepared for installation. In addition, control surfaces are being installed on the wings as structural work is completed. Boeing has been focused on preparing Dreamliner One for flight, say program sources. Progress on the first aircraft now exceeds Dreamliner Two in preparation for power-on and first flight. However, having both aircraft ready for flight at the same time is the ultimate goal as a contingency plan in case problems arise.
According to program sources, the static airframe, which is positioned behind Dreamliner One at position three, is wrapping up its assembly process and is expected to move to the Building 40-23 for static testing as early as the end of the month.
Dreamliner Two is still undergoing fuselage body join to mate the three major structural assemblies at position one in the Everett factory.
Potential for Further Delays
Multiple sources in areas of responsibility across the program note that an additional delay in first delivery appears to be inevitable. Any push back of power-on invariably pressures first flight and would likely have a further impact on certification and first delivery timetables.
Boeing representatives, however, have maintained that the schedule is unchanged.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chairman and CEO Scott Carson told a group of investors February 6th that, “We’re making very solid progress on [assembly] as we move towards…first flight at the end of the second [quarter].”
Vice President of Marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Randy Tinseth was quoted at the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) conference March 11th stating that they company is focused on getting power on “sometime in the early beginning of the second quarter.”
Key Boeing customers have expressed doubt publicly about the current schedule.
Steven Udvar-Hazy, Chairman and founder of the International Lease Finance Corportation (ILFC), Boeing’s largest 787 customer, was quoted at a presentation at the JPMorgan’s aviation conference in New York City on March 18 as expecting power-on in June and first delivery to take place in the third quarter of 2009.
Boeing is expected to release the results of its comprehensive assessment of the 787 program schedule in the coming weeks.