Boeing's chief executive, James McNerney, says a final decision about the second assembly line for the 787 is imminent. The airframer has also restated its intention to fly the Dreamliner by the end of the year, despite reports of a last-minute revision to the design of the side-of-body structural modifications needed to overcome stresses that scuppered plans for a maiden flight in June.
The selection of the second-line location has narrowed in recent weeks to two choices - alongside the existing 787 final assembly plant in Everett, Washington, and at the Charleston, South Carolina facility where the centre and aft fuselages are integrated.
McNerney, who says the decision is "a couple weeks away", acknowledges that "there would be execution challenges" associated with Charleston, but adds that the presence of newly acquired Boeing Charleston, formerly Vought Aircraft Industries 787 operations, provides a springboard for the construction of a second line.
The airframer's boss revealed the decision timing during the third-quarter earnings call, where a net loss of $1.6 billion was announced after absorbing reclassification of the first three 787s to research and development status and write-downs on 747-8, totalling $2.5 billion and $1 billion, respectively.
Boeing has not explicitly denied a recent report by Flightglobal's FlightBlogger citing programme and industry sources as saying that the design for the side-of-body modification for four of the 17 shortest and highest load wing stringers required revisions that could push the first flight into 2010.
However, a company blog, quoting 787 vice president and general manager Scott Fancher, described it as "off-base". And McNerney insists 787 will fly by the end of the year. He added that installation of the side-of-body modification was continuing and the last detailed design for the stringer modifications was about to be validated. "The schedule changes every day," says McNerney. "In the sense that problems come up, we have to deal with them. There are opportunities that come up, we have to deal with them we're still on track for [a first flight by] the end of the year."
McNerney anticipates that the entire complement of six 787 flight-test aircraft will be flying by next June.