Boeing scrutinises 787 delivery schedule

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Boeing is once again examining its 787 delivery schedule as it seeks to address the mountain of post-certification rework required to turn partially completed airframes into deliverable passenger aircraft, confirm multiple programme sources.

Staff from around Boeing and its supply chain tell FlightBlogger that the formulation of a plan on how to tackle the expansive amount of work required to bring each airframe up to a certified production standard is driving the current schedule review.

Currently, Boeing is aiming to hand over its first 787 to Japan's All Nippon Airways in February, just three years shy of the original May 2008 delivery date, though a verdict on the necessary rework is expected in the coming weeks, and could impact initial deliveries anywhere from weeks to several months, depending on the customer.

"Flight testing is a dynamic process and we constantly review and manage risks and opportunities to the programme schedule. Our plan remains first delivery of the Boeing 787 mid-first-quarter 2011," says the airframer.

One programme engineer says that in order to meet the mid-February delivery target for ANA all of the design changes for Airplane Seven (JA801A), the first production 787, had to be released from engineering by the close of October. However, the source explains, "there are some design changes that are not released yet, but must be implemented to have the airplane certified" ahead of first delivery.

Programme and industry sources suggests Airplane Seven's delivery could be made to ANA on time in February, but open questions remain over when the aircraft would enter revenue service pending additional necessary changes, and how long after first delivery additional deliveries will follow.

Boeing has remained reluctant to provide guidance on how many 787s it expects to deliver in 2011, though Jim McNerney, the company's CEO, has identified post certification rework a chief priority for the programme.

"We are intensely focused on managing the change incorporation process on airplanes already built or in flow," McNerney said in the company's 21 October third quarter earnings, reiterating the February delivery target . "The early delivery schedule is comprised of a mix of airplanes coming off the production line and airplanes completing the change incorporation process."

Programme sources emphasise none of the issues on their own equal the magnitude of Boeing's June 2009 side-of-body announcement, which single-handedly crippled the programme for six months, but all told add up a time-consuming and arduous process to prepare each aircraft for delivery. The aircraft's highly integrated systems, says one industry source, means "you can't touch one thing in isolation".

Post-certification rework is meant to pool everything Boeing learned about the 787 during flight test and feed the required changes back into the aircraft's structure and systems before they are deemed ready for delivery. Part of the review includes determining how much post-certification rework can and cannot be done concurrently with other modifications.

Boeing has been building production 787s since June 2009 when it began assembling Airplane Seven, the first of its non-flight test airframes. To date, Boeing has built 22 production aircraft that are scattered around the company's Everett, Washington final assembly and flight lines, many of which are buttoned up for extended storage, without engines, doors, windshields and control surfaces.

The earliest planned deliveries, Airplane Seven, Eight and Nine are positioned inside the factory or at rented hangar space at Aviation Technical Services on the south side of Paine Field. Airplanes Eight and Nine both have Package A Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, and are slated to join flight test before the close of the year for extended twin engine operations (ETOPS) testing. Airplane Seven is currently swarmed with engineers and machinists aiming to have the aircraft in ANA's hands in February.

For the assembled production aircraft for customers ANA, Japan Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, LAN and Air India that cover Everett, a myriad amount of rework from nose-to-tail on the 787 is expected to get underway following the 787's certification early next year.

Issues ranging from a flight deck window popping sound discovered during flight test, cabin condensation issues, reworking passenger doors, resolving workmanship issues on the aircraft's horizontal stabiliser and incorporating changes to the Trent 1000 engine, could all add up to a slide the deliveries to the 787's earliest customers well into 2011 or potentially even 2012.

Another factory engineer says: "If final assembly were the only thing that had to be done in Everett, they would crank those airplanes through the factory in no time. Unfortunately, the bulk of the activity on the line appears to be rework of supplier-sourced assemblies."

Production of new airframes is expected to continue through the end of flight testing once deliveries from suppliers are resumed as early as this week, while the challenge remains to reach a point of equilibrium where rework is no longer the primary task in Everett.

"The line is littered with bins that are filled with parts removed to gain access to areas that need to be reworked. It would be impossible to assess how much of the work going on out there is out of sequence," the factory engineer states.

Boeing has always anticipated a process of change incorporation following flight test as it has with all its previous programmes. The airframer plans to use its facility at Port San Antonio at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to perform some of the change incorporation once aircraft are in a flyable condition to make the trip south.