First flight of Air India's 787 cut short by failed sensorPhoto Credit James Polivka
Jon Ostrower/Washington, DC
Air India's first 787 made its maiden flight 31 July, though the sortie was cut short by a declared emergency traced to a failed sensor.
Operating as Boeing 233, Airplane 29, wearing Air India's colours, departed Paine Field at Boeing's Everett, Washington facility at 12:46 local time on a standard B-1 production flight for an initial checkout of the aircraft's systems.
Dubbed ZA233, the aircraft took off with an estimated 5h of fuel aboard and four crew, according to recorded air traffic communications (via Matt Cawby).
The flight marked only the third production 787 to fly to date, with the first, Airplane Nine, ZA102, flying in January, followed in March by Airplane 23, ZA177, for Japan Airlines.
Minutes after departure, the aircraft reported that it was "working a little bit of a flap problem and we might be returning" to Everett before formally declaring an emergency at 12:55, requesting a return to Paine Field, citing an issue with its flight controls.
Boeing says the aircraft "performed a safe landing" at 13:12 local time and the issue was traced to a failed sensor. The airframer declined to offer any additional information on the type of the sensor or nature of the flight control issue.
The aircraft is expected to be eventually registered as VT-AND, but has been assigned a temporary US registration of N1006N.
The aircraft, which is powered by two General Electric GEnx-1B engines, is expected to be ferried to San Antonio, Texas where Boeing has established a refurbishment and change incorporation facility for both 787s and 747-8s. Air India'a first will join ZA177, which has been in Texas since March.
The airframer expects initial type certification of the 787 with Rolls-Royce Package A Trent 1000 engines in late August, with General Electric certification to come later in the fourth quarter.
First delivery to Air India is slated for sometime late in the fourth quarter.
July 2011 Archives
Albaugh: We need to look hard at what we can do within the four walls [of the Renton factory] and if the demand is there we'll have to look at: do you need to build a new factory and where might you put it? But we're getting way ahead of ourselves we just made the announcement to do it, we made the decision to do it a few weeks ago, but in the event that we need more capacity we'll look and made the best decision for Boeing.
Ken Herbert, Wedbush Securities: You've talked about narrow body rates now a few times getting to a 50-60 range, as you think about the cost profile of this program, how should we think about understanding considering some of the limitations up in Renton. How narrow body production may evolve to potentially support, to maintain some of your margin while at the same time looking at some of the rates you've thrown out there the next five to ten years:
Boeing CEO Jim McNerney: We haven't made the final decision on where we're going to produce the re-engined airplane, your question implies though that after the 42 per month, we do run into some challenges if Renton were the choice, some capital expenditures there to increase it. But we have other options and we're going to study them all as we think it through. But, demand could easily be that high in the timeframe we're talking about and the good news is we have options.
KH: To what extent could South Carolina step in and meet some of that demand for you?
JM: It would depend as we studied it for how competitive they could be as compared to a Renton or compared to another site, if we would study it all and come up with a decision that would make the most sense for our customers and the company.
Continuing later on...
And depending on how it goes [in South Carolina], we'll have to see how competitive the factory is. We're going to invest to make it as competitive as we can. But I think it's fair to say, just getting the 87 done over then next few years is a big challenge and we are going to succeed. But over the next few years, I don't want to dilute the effort down there with other new airplanes right away, so it could be an option down the road on re-engine, it's not at the top of the list right now."
Dominic Gates, Seattle Times: I'm a little surprised to hear you opening up this option, you hope to produce 50 to 60 narrowbodies but the end of the decade per month, so you're now talking about not doing the re-engine in Renton, that seems like such a surprising thing to bring up. You've got your most efficient line of all your aircraft programs, you've actually got a third line - which does have the complication of being an ITAR line - but it seems like in Renton you do have all the options you could possibly want to make that airplane there. Are you seriously considering doing a re-engining somewhere else? Charleston doesn't even do metal airplanes, or is this a matter of just trying to keep your options open. And what's the effect on morale of the Renton workforce when you raise this, what'd I have to call a spectre, of putting work elsewhere?
JM: Well listen, Renton is one of the great aerospace factories in the world, obviously, the idea of putting a lot of work, a lot of narrowbodies there is very attractive, I think the spirit which I was answering the question was: Until we have sorted out the milestones associated with the ramp up, the degree to which we have to modify the airplane, there would be major investments in Renton, beyond the currently planned for production rates. Until we sort that all out we can't confirm where we're going to put it precisely. But would putting it in renton be a good option? Yes.
DG: All your supply chain converges on Renton. To put it somewhere else means having Wichita send it elsewhere. It seems like more investment to do it elsewhere.
JM: I think until we study it all...Renton has a strong case, but again, Dominic, there is significant investment that we'd have to make some place beyond the current rates that we're contemplating and until we understand exactly what the plane will be and what rate we have to build it, I think we have to study that and figure it out.
Further, ahead of a planned critical program review in the late summer or early fall, an entry into service slip of the larger 787-9 appears almost certain, say company, supplier, industry sources pushing handover to of the first aircraft to launch customer Air New Zealand into the first half of 2014 with an additional delay of three to six months, due to a slower than expected pace of design, possibly paired with a more modest production ramp up.
Yet the company's near term halt in deliveries to final assembly highlights the remaining challenges of how the 787 production system learns and achieves 10 aircraft per month by 2013, all while standing up its second final assembly line in Charleston.
Sources on both sides of the US say that completion of the 787's aft body has been of particular focus during the delivery hold, which is expected to expire in early August.
"The adjustment is due to a few production areas in the supply chain experiencing temporary challenges related to spot parts shortages and remaining engineering change incorporation," says Boeing.
Going into the month-long delivery hold, the first shipsets for the newly opened Charleston final assembly were the first to be delivered with 100% completion of assembly, the first in the program's history.
While on its surface an extremely positive development for a program that has worked for years to eliminate incomplete shipsets, multiple sources confirm that both Airplane 45 had considerably lower completion in comparison to earlier aircraft, and Airplane 47 - which has not yet been delivered to Everett - was expected to carry considered travelled work before the delivery halt.
The cause, say those with direct familiarity in Everett and Charleston, stemmed from Airplanes 45 and 47 being "cannibalized" for Airplane 46's completion.
Boeing says: "We're not confirming supplier by supplier details, nor completion of assembly by line number."
While Boeing has sought to take advantage of lean manufacturing techniques built into the production system, the reality, and the uneveness of completion, illustrates how the lean processes have been hard to meet deeper in the supply chain.
Notably, that as completion of assembly decreases and work is pushed later in the supply chain or even to final assembly, those responsible for the task completion are denied the opportunity to learn a steady repetition in their statement of work, say those with direct familiarity with the 787's production system.
Though the 787 final assembly line in Everett is definitively improving say company sources, citing Airplane 40 as an important turning point, with the first to have all of its flight controls - including long-missing flaps - installed before leaving the factory, along with its auxiliary power unit.
Despite the steady improvement the unevenness in production, and the amount of rework required on Airplanes ahead of 40, highlight how aerospace manufacturing systems "learn" at different rates.
The industry standard places the "curve" at around 85%. An 85% learning curve denotes for every doubling of production, the cost of each completed aircraft is reduced by another 15%.
For example, if the first item is at the top of the learning curve costs $1, the second will cost $.85 to produce. The fourth will cost 85% of the second at $.72, and the eighth 85% of fourth.
"The 85% learning curve is kind of the text book long-range average," says Scott Fancher, 787 vice president and general manager, "But in fact, when we look at our database of actual learning curves across many programs, you see quite a wide variation."
"It really depends upon the automation, the maturity of that automation the complexity of the structure being put together, the quality and the experience of workforce and the training of the workforce.
"It's hard to draw conclusions about what you would expect on 787 from that number," he adds.
In areas that have seen very little traveled work and not had a lot of design changes, Fancher says, "our productivity and quality numbers are better than our projections, we're very pleased the way that aspect is coming together."
When asked if those areas were exceeding the 85% textbook curve, Fancher would only say "They're doing better than our projections" without offering specifics.
Boeing is anticipating completion of 787 extended operations (ETOPS) and systems functionality and reliability (F&R) testing by the close of July, following Airplane Nine's remote deployment to Guam, which is underway.
Company sources expect final documentation is expected to be handed over to the US Federal Aviation early to mid August with an approximately 30 day review period to follow culminating in awarding of the 787's type certificate in early September.
The handover of Airplane Eight is expected around the third week of September, with Airplane 24 to follow closely after, the subsequent airframes at Boeing ATS - are advancing, but not at the pace needed to make room allowing for the 12 to 20 787 deliveries the company forecast earlier this year.
According to Leeham Co, Boeing guidance is expected to be closer to eight or nine 787s delivered in 2011.
The first 787 for launch customer All Nippon Airways will enter revenue service in October connecting a charter route between Tokyo-Narita International Airport and Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport.
Deliveries will begin in 2013 and run through 2022, with American Airlines anticipating it have the youngest US fleet within five years.
Of the 260 Airbus aircraft, 100 will be for current generation A320 family aircraft, with 160 more A320neos beginning in 2017, plus an additional 365 options and purchase rights.
The announcement, now expected in Wednesday's early morning hours, is to split some portion of a 300 to 400 aircraft order between rivals Boeing and Airbus, with suggestions the number could rise even higher.
Industry analyst consensus, as well as prevailing wisdom inside Boeing concludes that the European airframer cannot achieve 60 A320s per month without major expansions of its Toulouse, Hamburg or Tianjin, China lines and opens the door to a US based final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama, current site of an Airbus engineering center sometime late in the decade to meet the replacement demand in North America, while its other lines are devoted to meeting growth demand in the rest of the world.
The strategy assumes at least a partial win with American Airlines by Airbus, delivering A321neos to replace the aging fleet of 757s, which serve as the workhorse of the carrier's fleet. And more broadly a supply chain that can handle the record rates.
Key to Airbus sales strategy is the commoditization of narrowbody travel in the US, guiding consumers selecting travel based on the fare price rather than differentiated product that can be leveraged for a higher price tag.
Wielding a nearly 25% improvement in seat mile costs, according to an AirInsight report comparing the A321neo to the 757, American Airlines would gain a significant upper hand in crowded and price sensitive markets.
The result Airbus is banking on is American's legacy US competitors, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways, all following suit with major orders to secure delivery positions to replace their own aging fleets of 737 Classics, MD-80s and 757s with A320neos.
Airbus was aiming to capitalize on Boeing's perceived indecisiveness on the future of the 737, though news of a re-engined 737, or at least some version of it, offered to American Airlines may stave off a mass exodus of customers to the A320neo, say those familiar with the European airframer's thinking.
Though a split but, say industry watchers, allows American to compete Boeing and Airbus on an airframe by airframe basis, forcing both to trade margins for marketshare.
When it first bid on the US Air Force KC-X tanker contract, Airbus and then-partner Northrop Grumman said it would establish an A330/KC-45A final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama after the initial test articles were produced in Toulouse.
To reduce its risk further, Airbus was to build A330-200 freighters in Mobile as well, providing the airframer an expansion of its industrial footprint at Boeing's doorstep, as well as providing its business access to non-Euro Zone based production costs.
Boeing was able to block that foothold at the end of the protracted and winding tanker competition, with its KC-X win that will see it build the Air Force's new KC-46A, though the Air Force now says the cost of the project is now forecast to be a billion dollars higher than the company's winning bid.
Though despite its victory in the strategic deal, Airbus may look to Mobile to build A320neos to serve the demands of US fleets.
The European airframer has been expanding its footprint in the US with approximately 200 engineering jobs at the Mobile facility focusing on cabin engineering for its widebody aircraft, says Airbus.
While Japanese car-maker Toyota built its first Kentucky plants in 1988 because of import tariffs intended to protect US car makers on their home turf, Airbus faces no such barrier with the Agreement on Trade in Civil Aircraft (ATCA), says Teal Group vice president of analysis Richard Aboulafia, which has afforded equal market access to Airbus and Boeing onto the opposition's home turf.
Though the Toyota comparison may be even more apt, fitting within Piepenbrock's Red-Blue, steadily advancing production rates in worldwide markets, incrementally advancing production rather than leaping forward, only to cut production later.
Airbus CEO Tom Enders said July 15, the airframer was looking into additional production rate increases on the A320 family, examining the capability of suppliers to meet the anticipated demand for the A320neo production ramp up, adding that increases would be "in notches" and "not big jumps."
Narrowbody production is set to reach 42 aircraft per month by the fourth quarter of 2012, with increases to 44 being explored, which follows increases from 18 to 22 A320 family aircraft at the turn of the decade to a near doubling today, all incrementally increased over the past ten years.
As it heads to a rate of 42 narrowbody 737s per month by the first half of 2014, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said last week that his company was distantly exploring what it would take to build 60 competing 737s per month, echoing a sentiment reflected in Airbus own strategy: "It'll be a while before we go that high, but I tell you what if they can build them I think we can sell them."
Boeing plans to deliver the first 787 to ANA in the August to September timeframe.
Launch customer ANA is expected to take delivery of the first 787 in August or September.
"We are ready for this final phase of flight testing," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program. "The team has created a solid plan for accomplishing the hours and test points required for F&R and ETOPS testing in support of delivery to our customer ANA in the August to September time period."
Boeing plans to deliver the first 787 to ANA in the August to September timeframe.
ANA's first scheduled service with the 787 will be either the Tokyo Haneda-Okayama or Tokyo Haneda-Hiroshima route when deliveries begin later this year.Either Boeing has decided to add a bit of variety to its wording for 787 first delivery or there is ground work being laid for a delivery after September.
SOMEWHERE ON THE ROAD TO KENNEDY SPACE CENTER -- As the dateline would suggest, I'm in transit. In what has become a series of lines, that lead to more lines, I am on a bus bound for Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center - another in a series of stops - that will eventually take me to the causeway that sits about 4 miles from Pad 39A, currently hosting a Space Shuttle for the final time.
OV-104, more commonly known as Space Shuttle Atlantis, began fueling a little past 2:00 AM here in Florida, but weather - not technical readiness - appear to be the big obstacles to an on-time launch at 11:26 AM ET. NASA gives the launch about a 30% chance of taking place with a chance of thunderstorms in the area. As a baseball fan .300 are odds I'll take. Much of this day, I suspect, will be spent playing the waiting game.
So there's no confusion, my beat remains commercial aircraft, and my business here in Florida is separate from any official Flightglobal coverage, but seeing an opportunity to see a shuttle launch in person, I seized it, which is not to say I wasn't going to write something about the goings-on here at the cape.
More from Florida to follow as the morning rolls on, but it's just shy of 3 AM now, and I'm going to try and briefly add to the 90 minutes of sleep I got "last night" while I still have the chance. JO, out.
The second in a two part Paris Air Show news analysis exploring the strategic questions facing Boeing and its decision about the future of the 737. This analysis builds on the discussion of tactical decisions facing Boeing as it develops the technology for the new conceptual jet. READ PART ONEPARIS -- Amid the temporary chalets, noisy press conferences and overcrowded flight line, the Paris Air Show featured a traditional straw poll of sorts. Boeing's stalwart narrowbody customers quietly - and some not so quietly - cast their vote in favor of a New Small Airplane.
As the ink dried on a purchase agreement for 15 more 737-800s, Norwegian Air Shuttle CEO Bjorn Kjos told a room of journalists he was "lining up in the queue to tell Boeing to build a new aircraft" and was urging Boeing it was time to take "the next giant leap."
Steven Udvar-Hazy employed the pages of the Seattle Times to send his message: "We're ready to sit down (with Boeing) and make a deal on a new airplane, that's how strongly we feel."
Contemplating a 200 aircraft order from China's Comac, Morgan Stanley industry analyst Heidi Wood called Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary's actions as "dual-pronged" with a loud message to Boeing's Chicago headquarters: "Notice served; Ryanair wants a new plane."
Even all-Boeing operator American Airlines pursuit of the A321neo to replace its 757s, as reported by Bloomberg News, was the carrier's way of saying the Next Generation 737 isn't enough. The story shot a bolt of panic through Seattle as its "cannot lose" customers cast their vote one by one.
The message is far from subtle, Boeing's customers want an all-new airplane, yet the decision, by "market-driven" Boeing, isn't so simple.
Paris demonstrated the A320neo accomplished one clear feat - Airbus found an effective means to lock in its customer base for another decade, despite the protests of lessors. In the first six months of 2011, Airbus has earned 668 firm orders for the A320neo, more than the total combined net orders for 2009 and 2010.
A clean-sheet New Small Airplane would be a complete break from today's 737, unencumbered by commonality in both parts and pilot type rating, and by its very definition would unlock Boeing's 737 customer base to disregard switching costs between types as it considered the A320neo against the NSA.
Would the relatively low cost investment by Airbus to develop the the A320neo to provide a 15% improvement in fuel burn give the European airframer the ability to use selling price to flip Boeing customers who have been unlocked from the 737NG? Is this a recipe for loss of market share?
"If we did a new small airplane," insists Nicole Piasecki, Boeing business development vice president, "We would not do a plan that has us losing market share. We would have a plan that would have us gaining market share. That means that we have to understand with confidence how to keep our exising customer base and grow it.
"And that means, again the NG is going to stay in production for a long period of time and that family is competitive as possible as well. So we will not abandon the NG at the same time we are going through the transition," emphasizing the 737+ developments for the next tranche of incremental improvements to the narrowbody, will provide a technological bridge to a New Single Aisle.
Though, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh is unapologetic about the price tag of its narrowbody: "Our view is the 737 should command a higher price and we charge a higher price because of the capability it provides," adding that a re-engined 737 or an all-new airplane would be no different.
Piepenbrock's Red-Blue suggests mature markets are battlefields for cost competition. Whether Boeing likes it or not Airbus is playing a cost game while Boeing is playing a value game, prompting price sensitive airlines and lessors to invariably weigh the value of efficiency and fuel burn if its delivered up front as as price cut.
Though inextricably, the path to the New Small Airplane runs through Everett, Charleston, Wichita, Nagoya, Grottaglie, Foggia, Frederickson and Salt Lake City. To pay for a massive new development program - its design and its industrialization - Boeing must make its current clean sheet 787 profitable, before it sets out on the next.
Both UBS Investment Research and Bernstein Research have recently published a reports raising questions about the pace of achieving profitability on 787, recognizing the contractually established supplier costs coupled with the low locked-in aircraft sale price over more than 800 aircraft.
UBS's David Strauss predicts "flat to progressively worse 787 cash flow over the next several years" as the production system comes down the learning curve, coupled with prices that make 787, says Berstein's Doug Harned a "victim of its own success. With 787 production sold out until 2019, pricing is largely fixed at prices we believe were set too low in the beginning."
This page's own reporting reflects this trend, with an average airframe sale price of $76 million, locked in on at least the first 300 aircraft, a conservative estimate that has not taken into account return buying by the early tranche of customers.
"At this point in time our product development investment decision we are assuming success and progress and momentum on all of that so we're not constraining our thinking around that," says Piasecki.
"But as you and I can imagine, if we're a board member and the company isn't executing on what it needs to, there are going to be some questions around it. We have to be accountable for getting to profitability on the 87 and the 47-8, no question about it, top priority."
As Boeing brings into focus the considerations around the cost of making another big leap, the benefits of incrementally improving the 737, weighed against the development requirements for the 787-9 and -10X, as well as crafting a more comprehensive competitive response to the A350 in the 777-8X and -9X, the constrained path forward may point to re-engining the 737.
"There are tradeoffs, I think the re-engine is a very, very attractive option," says Piasecki. "From a perspective, if you're looking for minimal disruption to the industry, maximum flexibility to make a move on the 777, and those are all the sorts of things that we're thinking about as we move through this decision."
Boeing last deliberation about replacing the 737 Classic with an all-new jet came in the early 90s, in the midst of a constrained environment that focused the organization's attention toward the development of the clean sheet 777. Out of those constraints the Next Generation 737 was born.
The result, an incremental development strategy that considerably grew the capability of the 737 family, has yielded 3,700 deliveries, a 6% improvement in efficiency since 1997's first delivery and has brought the company great riches, high production rates and arguably the leanest, most productive supply chain in all of aerospace, that seamlessly joins together a quarter million parts 31.5 times every month.
As it looks down the road to an all-new narrowbody and its all-new production system, then back at its stalwart best-selling product, Boeing is again a company at a crossroads.