PARIS AIR SHOW: Boeing hints at nearing decision on second 787 production line, remains committed to 10/month by 2012

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Boeing is nearing a decision on a second 787 production line, says Pat Shanahan, vice-president of airplane programmes. But the damaging strike at its Everett plant in Seattle last year means the chosen location will have to offer labour stability, he adds.

Boeing needs a second 787 line to raise production rates beyond 10 a month to meet customer demand and make up for 22 months of programme delays. Shanahan says the plan was "more mature and advanced than it was a year ago", and Boeing is "not going to ponder a long time" before making the decision.

"The sooner you make a decision, the better," he says. "It will be very measured. It won't be emotionally based." Shanahan cites "functional logistics" and access to "skilled labour and high tech skills" as key selection criteria.

 ed turner/boeing
 © Ed Turner/Boeing

Shanahan would not specify which locations are on the shortlist for a second 787 production line, but says: "There are lots of geographical options. The real options are around how do you secure assurance of delivery? That's been a discussion topic around some of the disruption we've realised."

That disruption is the 57-day strike that halted airliner production at Boeing's manufacturing facilities at Everett, current site of final 787 assembly, last September and October.

Likely candidates for a second 787 production line include Everett, San Antonio in Texas and Charleston in South Carolina. Charleston is home to centre fuselage integration by Global Aeronautica, as well as aft fuselage fabrication by Vought.

San Antonio will host refurbishment and change-incorporation operations for the six flight test aircraft and early production 787s. "There are opportunities we need to assess," he says.

A Seattle native, Shanahan praises the local community, but says the Everett strike has damaged the prospects of setting up the second line there. "You have the customer telling you you're making it really hard to choose your product because when we buy it you can't give it to us," he says.

One major customer, Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin Atlantic Airways has 15 787-9s on order, said earlier in the year: "If people in Seattle build our planes and deliver them on time and, to be frank, don't go on strike, then we'll continue to work with Boeing. If we have our airline completely messed up, with tremendous damage done to our own workforce, then we'll go to Embraer or Airbus."

Despite some deferrals from early 787 customers, Shanahan says Boeing is still committed to ramp up 787 production to 10 aircraft a month by 2012. "The demand is there. Obviously there are factors like financing issues, but that's so far out there," he says.

Boeing has accumulated 865 orders from 56 customers for the 787, and Shanahan says Boeing is not even discussing the possibility of not meeting the 787 demand forecast. "Two and a half years isn't that far away," he says "It's just a lot of work, and I think second-guessing that at this point would not serve any value now."