Travelled work minimal for Charleston 787: Boeing

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Boeing says the first 787-8 completed on its new Charleston, South Carolina final assembly line left the factory on 27 April with 96 "travellers", unfinished items to be completed outside the factory.

"A couple of hundred is not unusual," says Boeing South Carolina manager Jack Jones, a Boeing veteran of 33 years, of the unfinished items on production aircraft. "The very first one [here] has less than 100."

Those remaining items will be completed on the flight line at Charleston before the aircraft is delivered to Air India later this quarter.

A key element in the low number of travellers for Airplane 46 at Charleston is that the aircraft does not need the typical post-production change incorporations that 787s on the primary line in Everett continue to require.

Those changes include engineering change orders to correct for items uncovered during flight testing, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said during company's first quarter earnings call last week. Boeing performs the work off-line at modification centres, a practice the company will be gradually phasing out over the next year as changes are mapped in to the production line. The first Everett 787 not requiring change incorporations will be an aircraft in the mid-60s production number later this quarter, says Boeing.

The Charleston final assembly line has the advantage of coming on-line with those changes incorporated into the production process from the start.

Along with the final assembly line, Boeing South Carolina's 6,000 employees and contractors also build 787 aft-body sections and assemble mid-body sections for all 787 production. The facility has a target production rate of 10 aft- and mid-body sections per month as well as 3.5 completed aircraft per month by the end of 2013, taking overall 787 production to 10 aircraft per month.

Boeing South Carolina's first four completed aircraft are destined for Air India, the first to be delivered in Charleston by the end of the second quarter, says Jones. The three other aircraft are progressing through the 111,500m2 (1.2 million ft2) final assembly building, the largest single building in Boeing's inventory.

"We're trying to have consistent customers delivered out of South Carolina," says Jones, adding that all four aircraft will be delivered to Air India before year's end.

Boeing expects first flight of Airplane 46 in approximately three weeks, after a number of post-production tasks, including weighing the aircraft, fuelling it to check for leaks and running the engines in one of seven "delivery stalls" at the facility.

Jones says "Boeing Flight 1", the first flight, typically lasts for 5h.