Boeing is once again examining its 787 delivery schedule as it seeks to address the mountain of post-certification rework required to turn partially completed airframes into deliverable passenger aircraft, confirm multiple program sources.
Staff from around Boeing and its supply chain tell FlightBlogger that driving the current schedule review is the formulation of a plan on how to tackle the expansive amount of work required to bring each airframe up to a certified production standard.
Today, Boeing is aiming to hand over its first 787 to Japan’s All Nippon Airways in February, just shy of three years since the original May 2008 delivery, though a verdict on the necessary rework is expected in the coming weeks and could impact initial deliveries anywhere from weeks to several months depending on the customer.
“Flight testing is a dynamic process and we constantly review and manage risks and opportunities to the program schedule. Our plan remains first delivery of the Boeing 787 mid-first-quarter 2011,” says the airframer.
One program engineer says that in order to meet the mid-February delivery target for ANA all of the design changes for Airplane Seven (JA801A), the first production 787, had to be released by engineering by the close of October, however the source adds “there are some design changes that are not released yet but must be implemented to have the airplane certified” ahead of first delivery.
Program and industry sources suggested Airplane Seven’s delivery could be made to ANA on time in February, but how long after it entered revenue service pending additional changes, and how long after that more deliveries followed, remained an open question.
Boeing has remained reluctant to provide guidance on how many 787s it expects to hand over to carriers in 2011, though Jim McNerney, the company’s CEO, identified post certification rework a chief priority for the program.
“We are intensely focused on managing the change incorporation process on airplanes already built or in flow,” McNerney said in the company’s third quarter earnings, which maintained the February first delivery target. “The early delivery schedule is comprised of a mix of airplanes coming off the production line and airplanes completing the change incorporation process.”
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Program sources emphasize none of the issues on their own equal the magnitude ofBoeing’s June 2009 side-of-body announcement which single-handedlycrippled the program for six months, but all told add up atime-consuming and arduous process to prepare each aircraft fordelivery. The aircraft’s highly integrated systems, says one industrysource, means “you can’t touch one thing in isolation.”
Post-certificationrework is meant to pool everything Boeing learned about the 787 duringflight test and feed the required changes back into aircraft’sstructure and systems before they are deemed ready for delivery. Partof the review includes determining how much post-certification reworkcan and cannot be done concurrently with other modifications.
Boeinghas been building production 787s since June 2009 when it beganassembling Airplane Seven, the first of its non-flight test airframes.To date, Boeing has built 22 production aircraft that are scatteredaround the company’s Everett, Washington final assembly and flightlines, many of which are buttoned up for extended storage, withoutengines, doors, windshields and control surfaces.
The earliestplanned deliveries, Airplane Seven, Eight and Nine are positionedinside the factory or at rented hangar space at Aviation TechnicalServices on the south side of Paine Field. Airplanes Eight and Nineboth have Package A Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines and are slated tojoin flight test before the close of the year for extended twin engineoperations (ETOPS) testing, however Airplane Seven, is currentlyswarmed with engineers and machinists aiming to have the aircraft inANA’s hands in February.
For the assembled production aircraftfor customers ANA, Japan Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, LAN and Air India that cover Everett, a myriad amount of rework from nose-to-tail on the787 is expected to get underway following the 787′s certification earlynext year.
Issues ranging from a flight deck window poppingsound discovered during flight test, addressing cabin condensationissues, reworking passenger doors, resolving workmanship issues on theaircraft’s horizontal stabilizer and incorporating changes to the Trent1000 engine, are among the issues that add up to slide the deliveries to the 787′s earliestcustomers well into 2011 or potentially even 2012.
Anotherfactory engineer says: “If final assembly were the only thing that hadto be done in Everett, they would crank those airplanes through thefactory in no time. Unfortunately, the bulk of the activity on the lineappears to be rework of supplier-sourced assemblies.”
Productionof new airframes is expected to continue through the end of flighttesting once deliveries from suppliers are resumed as early as thisweek, while the challenge remains to reach a point of equilibrium whererework is no longer the primary task in Everett.
Further, addsthe engineer, “The line is littered with bins that are filled withparts removed to gain access to areas that need to be reworked. Itwould be impossible to assess how much of the work going on out thereis out of sequence.”
Boeing has always anticipated a process ofchange incorporation following flight test as it has with all itsprevious programs. The airframer plans to use its facility at Port SanAntonio at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to perform some of thechange incorporation once aircraft are in a flyable condition to makethe trip south.