Lack of production engine for Airplane Nine drives 787 delay

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The lack of availability of Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines for Airplane Nine in the 787 programme, Boeing's third production aircraft and the first of the commercial fleet scheduled to fly, is main driver for the programme's latest delay.

"We need to get an engine for Airplane Nine so we can do [extended twin engine operations] ETOPS testing," says Jim Albaugh, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and chief executive officer.

The shortage of Trent 1000 engines extends to subsequent aircraft, including Airplane Seven, the first 787 slated for delivery to launch customer All Nippon Airways, now pushed into the middle of the first quarter of 2011 from the fourth quarter of 2010.

In addition to ETOPS testing, Airplane Nine was scheduled to participate in systems functionality and reliability testing at the end of the third quarter, continuing into the fourth quarter.

Five of Boeing's six flight test aircraft, excluding ZA001, were set to participate in ETOPS testing during the planned 3,100h flight test campaign.

Neither Boeing nor Rolls-Royce are offering details on the future of the Package A engine build, though it is now confirmed that the 2 August failure occurred on a version of that engine slated to power Airplane Nine. Package A engines are set to power the first several 787s for ANA, before switching to Package B for an improvement in fuel consumption to within 1% of original specification.

Rolls-Royce is seeking to distance itself from the uncontained failure. "We have been informed by Boeing that the currently planned dates for Trent 1000 engine deliveries will not support their latest flight test programme requirements. We are working closely with Boeing to expedite delivery in support of their programme schedule," says the engine maker, indirectly suggesting a shift to the left of Boeing's timelines was unachievable.

However, Rolls-Royce emphasises "the engine availability issue is unrelated to the test bed event which occurred earlier this month".

What remains unclear from all parties involved is in what way the failure was related to the delay, yet by all outward appearances the failure prompted Boeing's "assessment of the availability of an engine needed for the final phases of flight test this fall".

Boeing's 787 programme has been beset by nearly three years of delays.