787 Update: What is Z18 and why does it matter?

Across the entirety of Boeing’s 787 global supply chain from Charleston to China, Nagoya to Naples and Winnipeg to Washington, executives, manufacturing planners and engineers are in the late stages in developing a document that will dictate the future of the planet’s most ambitious industrial undertaking.

The document, known as Z18, the latest of 18 revisions to the 787 schedule, dictates all aspects of the fabrication, final assembly flow and customer delivery planning for each aircraft.

A preliminary version of Z18 has been examined by Boeing Commericial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson and is expected to be reviewed shortly by Boeing CEO Jim McNerney, senior program sources tell FlightBlogger.

Sources familiar with the schedule indicate that ZA001′s first flight is likely to be slated for the late November/early December time frame, with first delivery to Japan’s All Nippon Airways in the fourth quarter of 2010.

However, Boeing maintains that no decisions on the schedule have been made and the disclosure of the overall program timeline detailing first flight and aircraft certification will be announced by the end of September.

The development of Z18 is a closely held process that takes into account the short and long term production strategies, the ability of suppliers to ramp up and incorporate design changes, the capacity of final assembly operations, the requirements of airlines, as well as the financial considerations that impact the decision-making process.

Scott Fancher, 787 program vice president and general manager, was quoted in July as saying it was no secret that Boeing required a second final assembly line to support the production ramp up and meet the unprecedented demand for the aircraft.

Z18, as a result of this future requirement, could be the first program schedule that Boeing develops with provisions and planning for a second 787 assembly line in mind, no matter where it is located.

Fancher, who’s responsible for the implementation of the schedule will require more art than science, his role likened to that of an orchestra conductor, ensuring that each of the partners moves in unison at the required tempo.


  • The latest on the Alenia/Section 46 wrinkles
  • What does Net Change 5 mean for the program?

Photo Credit Andrew Sieber

One important part of the orchestra in the minds of Boeing planners isthe hold in fabrication at Alenia’s Grottaglie, Italy facility, howeverBoeing believes it has devised a plan to ensure that the hold won’timpact the planning for Z18.

Production does continue at Alenia, but Boeing confirmed thatfabrication of new barrels stopped on June 23rd. The company stoppedwinding any new barrel sections until the stringer edge step size canbe manufactured in such as way that does not wrinkle the skin of the Section 46 barrel.

Many were quick to assign blame that Boeing’s outsourcing strategy wasthe culprit for the halt, yet Richard Aboulafia, vice president ofanalysis at the Teal Group explains that this explanation ignores afundamental reality of the program.

“These are the best companies in the aerostructures world trying tograpple with building a completely new type of aircraft,” saysAboulafia referring to the majority composite construction of the 787.

Yet the episode also underscores a key reality of the 787 program: Thedesign of significant parts of the aircraft remain in flux enough toprompt an almost two-month halt in fabrication.

“The system is so fragile that it doesn’t take much to knock it offcourse. If you’re in control you can make it run properly, but there’ssteep learning curve here,” says one industry expert.

At the time the work stop order was given, Alenia held 15 44/46shipsets in Grottaglie. After deliveries in July and August to GlobalAeronautica, that number dropped to 13, with Airplanes 17-29 currentlyin process in Italy.

Boeing has a devised a patch to repair the wrinkled areas Airplanes 5through 29 to be applied in situ. The patch, Boeing says, will beapplied in two locations on the Section 46 barrel, just above the frameof door number three on the port and starboard side of the aircraft.The patches, whose impact on the aerodynamics or weight of the aircraftis negligible, will be no wider than the width of the door whichmeasures just under 50 inches wide.

Boeing says the patch “has already been designed and is being installednow at Global Aeronautica in South Carolina and will be installed atcompleted sections in Italy and Everett.”

In order to avoid disruption in the flow of deliveries from Alenia to Global Aeronautica in Charleston, SC, Boeing will resequence work onthe existing barrels sections currently in process in the factory. TheItalian aerostructures manufacturer with shift resources previouslyallocated to winding barrels to preparing the existing shipsets fordelivery.

For example, the installation of structural ribs and frames, a taskpreviously done sequentially, will be done concurrently with theassistance of the added resources. With the structural preparation ofthe existing shipsets accelerating, Boeing says it intends to shiftthose same resources back to winding and installing structure inbarrels for Airplane 30 and on once the redesign is complete,ultimately negating the halt in fabrication.

Boeing declined to specify how long barrel winding at Alenia could behalted for before the situation does impact planning for the Z18 orsubsequent schedules. Though Boeing quickly adds that “there is noreason to think that it will affect schedule.”

The delicate balance of shifting resources is risky, adds the industry expert, especially with theuse of composite structural material from a supplier that has alreadydemonstrated quality assurance issues in the past. Composite tape, once removed from its cold storage,will slowly cure even at room temperature if not properly handled.

“If you’re going to do work on a couple of fuselages concurrently, youbetter have your [quality control] processes really in charge andreally make sure you manage the time you have the materials on thefloor and make sure there’s no queuing problem in the oven, because youreally can’t wait.”


While Z18 is being finalized, supply partners continue to deliverstructural sections according to an interim Z17 schedule, which islikely to continue to dictate the final assembly schedule for up toAirplane 10, which could begin arriving as early as the end of thismonth.

Airplane 11 is expected to the be first 787 delivered to the Z18schedule, says a senior program source. Airplanes 11, 12 or 13 will befirst to see the cross-program implementation of what is being calledNet Change 5 (NC5). NC5, among other things, includes a long-plannedsystematic change in the wiring definition for the 787. The decisionabout which of the the three aircraft will be the first to receive NC5will be dictated by the constraints built into Z18.

Previously, suppliers like Spirit and Vought (now Boeing Charleston)had been able to deliver structural components with virtually 100%completion of assembly. However, once in Everett for final assembly,some of the internal stuffing had to be removed in order to performdesign upgrades, for example the replacement of aircraft wiring.

NC5 will standardize the many aspects of the design, includingstructural, wiring and systems, across all the partners to reduce theamount of traveled work done in Everett and “bring some semblance ofcommonality between the sections arriving at Final Assembly,” says oneprogram source.

38 Responses to 787 Update: What is Z18 and why does it matter?

  1. jerry August 20, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    2.5years delay… pretty extreme, lol

  2. John Burrell August 20, 2009 at 1:02 pm #

    The 787 is moving along, even with the delays, and the company is clearly thinking a lot about the second line.

    We here in Washington are banding together to keep the line in the Northwest. Go to the Boeing Works Here website at http://www.BoeingWorksHere.com or our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/BoeingWorksHere

  3. WingBender August 20, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    Until Washington becomes a right-to-work state, don’t hold your breath for a second 787 line in Everett. What good is an experienced aerospace workforce if they go on strike at the drop of a hat? This isn’t an anti-union rant, this is a dose of reality.

  4. jerry1t August 20, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    If first flight is slated for late Nov/early Dec 2009 and first delivery to Japan’s All Nippon is in the 4th Quarter, Boeing will have met it latest promised schedule as indicated despite the challenges it has faced recently.

    This was the schedule Boeing committed to prior to the Paris Air Show and appears to remain intact.

    This implies that the recent challenges, including the wing fix and Alienia’s will not cause protracted disruption and the larger program will continue to move along the timeline.

    I would think that Boeing’s management has felt the pressure from a variety of sources not to obscure issues and obstacles and to be forthright in its announcements.

    If this document and description of the program and schedule is as Jon describes it, then we can be less sceptical and cynical about the recent delay and expect things to have been worked through sufficiently to reiterate the preexisting schedule…hopefully with confidance and confirmation from all parties involved.

    It is an optimistic note which gives some encouragement that true progress is being made and is seen as possible.

  5. Leelaw August 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm #

    “This was the schedule Boeing committed to prior to the Paris Air Show and appears to remain intact.”

    Wouldn’t they be adding at least a full quarter between first flight and first delivery under the revised schedule?

  6. Jon Ostrower August 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    All signs point to a full six month slip from the original schedule. First delivery was supposed to be 1Q10, it’ll probably be 11-12 months after first flight in all likelihood.


  7. Jerry1t August 20, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    I stand corrected but honestly believed that the schedule remained intact from the one I thought . In any event, first flight remains in 2009 and first delivery remains in 2010.

    This certainly alot better than the article that was being sent around the web this morning indicating another two year delay.

  8. Leelaw August 20, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

    “All signs point to a full six month slip from the original schedule”

    Aren’t they also adding at least 90 days to the forecast length of the flight-test campaign than had been contemplated under the previous schedule?

  9. Guru Josh August 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    I don’t understand how a work stoppage at Alenia matters. What is the point in producing beyond LN29? Spirit said they had mothballed their cleanroom in early 2008, after baking the nose section for LN22. It doesn’t look like they ever fired up their oven since then, or did they?

  10. Frank August 20, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    With a first flight at the end of Q4 2009 and delivery less than a year later, Boeing seems pretty confident to meet their ambitious flight test schedule. I hope flying the thing will not turn out to be such a struggle as building it has apparently become. How’s that for pressure on the people in flight testing? I just hope that the CFRP behaves as expected/engineered and no nasty flutter/aeroelastic/acoustic issues pop up.

    Respect for the people involved in getting this show back on the road.

  11. Pointman August 20, 2009 at 5:27 pm #

    Another fancy document with the same game plan of failures.

    Is it a revised schedule of missed promises like Pat Shanahan touted in Paris? (1at Flight) I think it will be.

    The top 787 tier has demonstrated that their ability to move the logistics stream is crippled by distance, ability, and planning.

    They intend to move the program out of Washington State as it was evident to all the workers in July 2007.

    Any other use of that strategy by McBoeing is either ignorance or an out right deception to manipulate the present labor agreement.

  12. Jed August 20, 2009 at 7:34 pm #

    Dreamlifter to carry an assembly from Italy to Washington. Are you crazy?

  13. Employee August 20, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    If it doesn’t fly, I heat motels are being made out of them in the antarctic regions…

    They could also be sold as reefs off the coastline.


    I’m getting tired of hearing about the stupid thing…

  14. Neil August 20, 2009 at 9:03 pm #

    The US airlines that held off on buying the 787 are looking pretty smart right now. I haven’t followed the entire 787 production sage that closely, but as it stands right now the first batch of planes are 1. Overweight 2. Have a patched wing box 3. Patched fuselage barrel, not to mention whatever other problems might pop-up. I think I’d be happy getting plane # 200+. By then Boeing will have made many more improvements after having been to able to evaluate how the first 100 have held up in airline use.


  15. Andrew S. August 21, 2009 at 12:18 am #

    There were five Boeing Company biz jets in the Seattle area Wednesday, 19 August 2009. Three Challengers and one BBJ at Boeing Field on one challenger at Renton. Wonder if they came over to see the show.

  16. JIM HELMS August 21, 2009 at 12:25 am #

    The issue of flammability is still open. It burns. it isn’t supposed to burn.


  17. Aero Ninja August 21, 2009 at 3:57 am #

    So Boeing has committed to releasing a schedule for public consumption at around the end of September. Then we will see if Jon’s sources are well informed and reliable. =:-) I guess after that, it will be just a matter of waiting to see if Boeing can stand by their 18th iteration of said schedule. Assuming the schedule is indeed released by the end of September.
    Have they repaired and retested the static aircraft yet? I would expect Boeing to make a big announcement once the manage to test the wing to the ultimate load. I would hope they hold off on making the repair to to other aircraft until that milestone has been achieved.

    Ummmm Jon?! “the planet’s most ambitious industrial undertaking”!?!? I agree it is a very ambitious industrial undertaking but the planet’s most ambitious?! I think you need a bit of a break from hanging around certain influences.


  18. Uwe August 21, 2009 at 4:45 am #

    “Worlds Greatest” used to be US parlance for
    “We haven’t seen anything similar from our
    limited local viewpoint”.

    Are there actually any Dream(liner)ed up rumors
    that did not percolate as truth into reality after
    some time?


  19. Ramesh Patil August 21, 2009 at 5:47 am #

    For many customer airlines, these delays may be a blessing in disguise, since they will anyway not need these planes in the current recessionary climate, while at the same time collecting hefty penalties from Boeing

  20. CBL August 21, 2009 at 6:28 am #

    Plan Z?

    Did not know it was that desperate!
    Very worrying to say the lest.

  21. T. Varadaraj August 21, 2009 at 7:16 am #

    Despite Boeing management’s zero credibility vis-a-vis the 787 schedule, I think Boeing will escape with just a few cuts and bruises because of the effects of the economic downturn on the airline industry slowing down demand for new airplanes. I’m willing to bet that more than a few airlines are probably relieved by the delay in deliveries.

  22. Boeing Investor August 21, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    The document will contain “customer delivery planning for each aircraft”. I am not sure what that means but infer that each plane will have a delivery date and a carrier assignment.

    We still have seen few cancellations but wonder what this delay will cost…and whether Boeing is able to control its Book so as to minimize penalties.

    If a plane offers to defer to a later date, are penalties involved or cancelled? Also, one deferral can speed up another delivery.

  23. DX7 August 21, 2009 at 12:03 pm #


    But big B needs the revenue. As it is, they are racking up $800m in inventory each quarter without revenues from deliveries coming in, a net outflow of cash.

    As for the new schedule, none of the previous ones has tracked to plan so we will take this one with a fistful of salt

  24. daniel August 21, 2009 at 1:42 pm #

    “The planet’s most ambitious industrial undertaking” ??


  25. airplanejim August 21, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    “But big B needs the revenue. As it is, they are racking up $800m in inventory each quarter without revenues from deliveries coming in, a net outflow of cash.”

    While you are correct the 787 is causing negative cash flow at this time, the companies free cash position is quite good. The other aircraft are generating sales. It of course could be much better were the 787 being delivered but you could find that due to the meltdown the deliveries would be deferred. Then the results would be the same as now. All in all BA is doing nicely financially speaking.

  26. roger moore August 21, 2009 at 4:23 pm #

    Boeing CEO should really relocate to Seattle and put his 200% focus on 787.

    The management team deserves 90% of the blame with the current problem. Never in the history of Boeing has things gotten so bad. 787 is delayed, 747-8 is delayed, tanker not up to snuff, etc.

    Airbus has a much loyal customer based than Boeing. Boeing is now seen as a company managed by a bunch of old grumpy people who have not kept up with time. Airbus on the other hand is working and communicating closely with customers.

    Boeing = Liars
    Airbus = Superstars

  27. Barney August 21, 2009 at 4:40 pm #

    I do worry about CFRP planes. I can see metal bending or tearing to absorb enery in a crash. What happens to plastic? Maybe Boeing should take one of the first few overweight 787s no one wants to Canada and run it off the end of the runway where AF358 crashed. Be interesting to see what happens.

    Hmm.. Airbus are superstars are they? To quote Barney Frank “on what planet do you spend most of your time?”

  28. airplanejim August 21, 2009 at 5:58 pm #

    Barney, don’t be concerned by Roger Moore, his real name is John Leahy. His grammar isn’t very good either, it must be the French influence.

  29. Bben August 21, 2009 at 6:09 pm #

    If that is indeed the basic layout of the new schedule then I think its one they will fail again.

    It just smells Marketingspin all over. “We said we’ll have first flight in 2009 and we will” “We are on track with first delivery in 2010 as we said we would”

    and both dates would be “just” in the targetted year. I just dont buy it. I dont want to say that it isnt possible, as I am neither an insider or an expert. But this reeks of a schedule made by the marketing-team.

  30. Employee August 21, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

    As messed up ass the 787 program is, I’m still betting all the stock I have been accumulating is going to pay off…


  31. Anonymous August 21, 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    Does anyone our there ever wonder if this thing is ever going to fly? Seems to me the biggest problem
    is that CRFP is really CRAP.

  32. anon August 21, 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    Bareny, You want to see how CFRP does in a crash? http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3756136840276489900

  33. Anonymous August 22, 2009 at 8:34 am #

    What a bunch of clowns and cynics who comment on this page….same old nonsense most of the time…plane will not fly…management is bad…crfp will burn…schedule is nonsense…etc. etc etc….worthless opinions with no basis or knowledge..

    It would be a pleasure to see their expressions when the 787 flies and the schedule is met. I know this is just beyond their desires and comprehension

  34. RW - San Clemente August 23, 2009 at 12:56 pm #

    Boeing yet again proves that it is the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight”. I need to go work for Boeing! Apparently, you can screw up a multi-billion dollar development effort and put the financial future of the company at risk…and no one gets FIRED! This is utterly ridiculous and the company has ZERO credibility.

  35. rebecca vanderbilt August 24, 2009 at 1:05 am #

    To anonymous, you said and I paraphrased: it would be a pleasure to see 787 flies and on schedule?

    That’s BS. It’s already three years late!! Which part of it is on schedule??? It’s not even in the air!!!

    Let’s look at the facts. Look at Airbus’ books. How many aircraft cancellations have they got??

    Look in the last decade, Airbus has won handily in aircraft orders.

    Don’t come here with false info or no info. Some of you are just like Rush Limbaugh, simply saying falsehood without facts behind it whatsoever!!

    And by the way, to the grammar police, your grammar is even worse than what a 10-year-old’s. So stop correcting others, look at yourself in the mirror.

  36. Jacques August 24, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    One simple question put to you all Airbussies talking crap about the 787… how long would have the A350 been delayed by now had it started it’s genesis along the same time line as the Dreamliner? This is a revolutionary aircraft, of course there’s gonna be delays and issues in it’s development, that’s because it’s never been done before.. GET REAL GUYS! Credit goes to the team pushing the various boundaries of aircraft technology on this project.. but admittedly it’s true that Boeing’s top brass are a bunch of liars that needs some flack!

  37. Jacques August 29, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Huh!.. Obviously ya all probably picking your teeth after sucking on your frog legs.. CROAK!! LOL!

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