Boeing focuses on weight not rate, easing back on production study to focus on lighter twinjet

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By Guy Norris in Seattle

Manufacturer eases back on production study as it makes concerted charge to make widebody twinjet lighter

Boeing confirms it is stretching out its 787 production rate increase study and, at the same time, is ramping up spending on weight-saving initiatives to close the gap with its original targets.

Boeing 787 business management vice-president Craig Saddler says the rate increase study, originally due for completion around mid-year, is likely to slide towards the end of the year. Confirming the slowdown hinted at in July by 787 vice-president and general manager Mike Bair, Saddler says "time is on our side. To be honest we're not in a hurry with this production study - we want to get it right."

Saddler says Boeing hopes the decision will ease pressure on suppliers, allowing them to gain assurance in their production processes. "They're a bit tentative. We've been asking them to do something they've never done before. We're probably better off letting people build parts - their confidence will come way up and I think we're going to find out we're in a lot better shape than we thought we were."

The ongoing study is the second major rate re-evaluation since the 787 was launched. Although Boeing declines to discuss specific production rates, 787 monthly output is expected to launch at four, rising to six within a year, and reach 10 in 2010. Although this would be the highest-ever widebody production level, the manufacturer is believed to be looking at setting up a second assembly line at Everett to enable to output to increase to 12 a month in 2011, with possible further increases to 14 beyond that.

 
 Boeing has "a whole lot of ideas" as to how it will reduce the 787's weight

Saddler confirms Boeing is also leading a concerted charge to drive further weight out of the 787 which as recently as the end of July was "around 2-3%" over target, according to Bair. Although within the performance guarantees made to customers, Saddler says "we'd like to get it closer to our targets....and there's no question that we're making additional investment in that."

Additional engineering resources have been brought in from across Boeing "as well as from the supplier partners", he adds. "There are a whole lot of ideas on how we can reduce weight - some of which could cause more testing to be done."

Saddler says: "We have a 'war room' put together, and project leaders for each part of the aircraft. The effort is well staffed and the suppliers are on board."

On the plus side, Saddler says that initial wing assemblies from Fuji Heavy Industries "came in lighter than predicted, so that makes me feel good".

Despite the increased potential for delay and recent reports of schedule slippage, Saddler says the overall development timetable remains on track for first flight in late August 2007. He concedes that "stuff happens", but adds that none of the problem areas "are on the critical path. The really important ones - like start of assembly and Rolls-Royce firing up the engine - have been right on schedule."

 

BOEING 787 PRODUCTION PLAN
Monthly Annual

Launch 4 48
Year two 6 72
Year three 10 120
Longer term* 14 168
*rate increases under study