Farnborough 2008 was supposed to be big air show debut of Boeing’s 787. Under the manufacturer’s original delivery schedule for the aircraft, launch customer Japan’s All Nippon Airways was meant to have been flying its first 787 for a couple of months by now.
It was not to be. Today Boeing is aiming for the first flight of the all-composite 787 in the fourth quarter of this year with customers putting the first units into service in the third quarter of 2009, says Pat Shanahan, vice-president and general manager of the 787 programme.
Shanahan, a Boeing veteran of both commercial and defence programmes tasked with hauling the delayed airliner back on track, is “highly confident” his team can stick to schedule this time. But he won’t be drawn on specifics. “I want to avoid picking a date,” he says of the first flight. “Right now I’m going through all the functional testing of the airplane and I’ve left myself a window so I don’t have to explain why it didn’t happen on a particular day.”
He recognises that some are sceptical about Boeing’s new timetable and its ability to manage a global supply chain that has failed to keep pace with the aggressive ramp up in production of the 787. “Are there issues? Yep. Are there problems? Yep. Am I good at solving them? Yep,” says Shanahan.
Getting the supply chain up to speed has dominated much of Shanahan’s life in the past 10 months since he replaced Mike Bair at the head of the 787 programme. Large structural parts of the 787 arrive in Everett from all corners of the globe, such as fuselages from Alenia in Italy and wing boxes and wings from Fuji and Mitsubishi in Japan respectively.
“It is the most complex production chain we’ve ever had and a fast one,” said Shanahan, who refuses to criticise his partners. “They get a bad rap a lot times, but we’re learning a lot and we’re growing really, really fast. They have been very good to work with.” However “this is just a hard business,” he says, and that people like to point the finger when things don’t go right.
Progress on the airframes in production at Everett is good, with “Airplane 1 really clicking along hitting its milestones”, says Shanahan, who goes down to the line a couple of times a day to see for himself. “We’re down to 35 parts shortages on the wings and a handful of tubes so we can finish off the fuel system. Next month you’ll see engines hanging off of it and we’ll have hydraulics running this week.”
As Shanahan drives on to first flight, he is also pushing the design and engineering team for weight improvements. “I’m overweight – shame on me,” he says, but won’t be drawn on a percentage estimate. “Until we put Airplane 1 on the scales I won’t know. It is further away than I want to be but we are working to get it back quickly.”