Boeing holds firm to 787 production ramp-up

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Boeing aims to deliver a dozen or more 787s in 2011, with industry sources pointing to September for first delivery, while the airframer maintains its original plan of building 10 aircraft per month by the end of 2013.

The airframer declined to elaborate on its the third quarter guidance or confirm the September delivery target. However, while reporting its full year earnings, Boeing says it intends to deliver a combined total of between 25 and 40 747-8s and 787s in 2011, with a roughly 50-50 split in its guidance. Boeing says these deliveries will be a part of the 485 to 500 aircraft produced in 2011.

Boeing announced 18 January its first delivery to Japan's All Nippon Airways has slid to the third quarter of 2011, following a November electrical fire that halted certification activities for six weeks. 

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Boeing CEO Jim McNerney says, "we're getting pretty close to knowing" which 787 will be ready for delivery later this year, though programme sources say the production block between airplanes 10 and 22 still require significant rework before they can be handed over to customers.

Early candidates for delivery to ANA are believed to be Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-powered Airplanes Seven, Eight and Nine, as well as Airplane 23 for General Electric GEnx-1B engine launch customer Japan Airlines.

Boeing currently has its 31st 787 in final assembly, and McNerney says the completion of assembly and travelled work of newly arrived structural shipsets continues to increase.

McNerney says the recent 787s are coming together with quickening pace as the final assembly learning curve improves.

"We are now through a lot of the issues that caused some of the backup work, and on top of that the engineering change on what's going on with the flight test programme," says McNerney, "But that has, for the last couple of months, been under control."

Additionally, Boeing has allocated significant in-factory resources to ensuring rework to the Alenia-built horizontal stabiliser is nearly complete once an aircraft leaves the factory. 

As for the overall production ramp up, McNerney says that the margin for achieving the record widebody production rate has shrunk and the bulk of the increase from today's rate of two 787's per month to 10 per month will push into 2012, rather than 2011 as previously planned.

To aid in this production ramp up Boeing will activate its new Charleston, South Carolina final assembly line in July, followed by a second "surge line" in its Everett, Washington facility in early 2012.  

Boeing had planned to achieve nearly a three aircraft per month in the latter part of 2010, though the company had pulled back the reins and has since returned to two per month, a plateau that factory sources add is likely to run into the middle of year before accelerating once again.

Despite the further delays in first delivery, now stretching to nearly three and a half years beyond the first May 2008 target, Boeing CFO James Bell says the programme remains in a position of profitability over its assumed accounting block, a number the company declines to disclose. However, says Bell, the continued delays have put pressure on programme profitability.

Boeing holds 847 orders from 57 customers.