Japan Airlines is preparing to become the second 787 customer, as Boeing nears imminent certification of GEnx-1B engines and a restart of deliveries that were stalled in early February by required repairs following improper shim installation in its aft fuselages.
The airline has completed both route proving and maintenance training following a quiet visit of GEnx-1B-powered 787 test aircraft ZA005 to Japan for service ready operational validation (SROV) trials that lasted from February 20 to March 9.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO, Jim Albaugh, says JAL will take delivery of its first aircraft in "the weeks to come".
Airplanes 23 and 33, both with 186 seats and registered JA822J and JA825J, respectively, are expected to be handed over to the carrier in late March, say program sources, ahead of the April 22 start to Boston-Tokyo-Narita services.
Service from Narita to New Delhi and Moscow, as well as Tokyo-Haneda to Beijing are slated to start following the 787's inaugural US service.
Boeing is nearing an imminent certification for GEnx-1B engine-airframe approval for its 787, a milestone expected to be paired with 330min extended operations (ETOPS) approval, says the program's top engineer.
"The work's all done, it's just a matter of churning through all the paper work at this point," says Mike Sinnett, 787 chief project engineer of the 330min ETOPS requirements, "So now it's just rolling it through the process with the GE [certification] coming in the next couple of days, [JAL] will be able to seek operational approval and we'll be done."
JAL's Boston link will not require a 330min ETOPS certification, though the aircraft will meet requirements to fly routes that require a diversion airport between 3h and 5h 30min flying time.
GE says its pairing certification of GEnx-1B 787 will include both its baseline Block 4 and Performance Improvement Package (PIP1) configurations, the latter of which is expected to deliver a 1.4% improvement in specific fuel consumption, due to an increase in the number of low pressure turbine (LPT) blades.
JAL's first 787 is fitted with PIP1 engines, says GE. Boeing completed flying for engine-airframe certification with Boeing on Airplane 35, a production model for Air India, on 23 February.
United Airlines, which takes delivery of six 787s this year, is expected to be the first to require the 330min requirement for its routing between Houston, Texas and Auckland, New Zealand.
180min approvals for Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-powered 787s were granted ahead of its October 2011 service entry, 330min certification was split into a second block of requirements with a "software adjustment" to the low fuel quantity indication necessary to meet US Federal Aviation Administration regulatory criteria.
Engine approvals were granted to Rolls for 330min ETOPS certification for its Trent 1000 in May 2011 and to GE on the baseline Block 4 GEnx-1B in December 2011, and again on March 8 for its PIP1 configuration.
To date, Boeing has delivered five 787s, all to All Nippon Airways, which is flying its aircraft on a majority of domestic routes, as well as a sole long-haul connection between Tokyo-Haneda and Frankfurt, Germany.
ANA expected its sixth 787 in February, Airplane 40, and JAL its first, but both required repairs to shims in the aft fuselage, slowing near-term deliveries. As of March 5, Boeing had conducted repair work on five 787s, a number expected to climb further as inspection continue.
JAL is expected to be followed by Air India in May, Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines in June, China Southern in July, LOT Polish Airlines in November, United Airlines in the second half of the year and LAN Airlines as new 787 customers and part of the 35 to 42 deliveries the company has planned in 2012.
On March 1, Boeing began receiving structural shipments at the Everett factory's Position 0 at a rate of 3.5 aircraft per month for pre-integration and Postion 1 followed to the higher rate as well with the recent loading of Airplane 61, LOT's first 787, for final body join.
Albaugh expects Airplane 66 to be its first 787 that will not require change incorporation work following final assembly, an assessment that has extended beyond previous internal assessments that Airplane 63 would be the company's first "right to pre-flight" 787.
Mapping out its climb to 10 787s per month by the end of 2013 spread across three final assembly lines, Boeing is nearing a June activation of its surge line at its Everett, Washington factory and first delivery from its Charleston line.
Rather than double the pace of its primary Everett line, operational since May 2007, Boeing will initially build up to mirror the current 3.5 aircraft per month rate on its surge line, advancing the factory's 787 output to five per month by years end with the surge's 1.5 per month contribution.
"That second line will basically replicate what we're doing on the first line. So in terms of getting up to five per month, we already know how to do that so this is a matter of replication," says Pat Shanahan, Boeing senior vice president of airplane programs.
"We'll fold it back into having just one line in Everett," he adds of the surge line, "but in the interim as we wait to bring on the 787-9 it's risk protection. So we've got kind of this belt and suspenders approach in Everett, so we're doubled down on getting to five, and then when we introduce the -9, we're rate protected if we want to run -8's down one line and -9's down another."
Though as the output across the supply chain and final assembly accelerates, Charleston's mid and aft-fuselage facilities remains the biggest "pinch point" to watch for Albaugh, despite delivering to final assembly to 100% completion of assembly.
Charleston facilities are likely to break to the higher five aircraft per month rate mid-year, say those familiar with the plan, but with more than fifteen center fuselage undergoing integration at a time on three lines, Boeing must advance production in South Carolina well ahead of its final assembly operations to meet its planned rate increases.
"The work cells can only handle so many jobs," says Albaugh. "We want to make sure we don't overload the work cells. We've had an issue to date with change traffic with a lot of late parts. We have been able to resolve the change traffic. We have been able to resolve the parts issues.
"And for the first time, our mechanics are starting to see planned work, time, after time, after time, and we will get the learning and we will sneak up on the rate changes rather than force them," says Albaugh.
Photo Credit Mitrebaud