Leonardo is to halt production of composite centre fuselage barrels for the Boeing 787 at its Grottaglie site in southern Italy for four months as it wrestles to align production with lower short-term demand.

However, it will also add a new final assembly line at the plant for the AW609 civil tiltrotor being developed by its helicopter division.


Source: Leonardo

Grottaglie plant produces 787 fuselage barrels

Originally established to build the carbonfibre structures for the 787, Grottaglie has not been running at full capacity for some time.

Initially hit by the fall in demand caused by Covid-19, the plant has subsequently struggled with lower-than-expected output due issues elsewhere in Boeing’s production system, including several delivery stoppages to deal with quality problems.

Leonardo had been seeking improved contract terms from Boeing for the 787 work and had warned in May it had no information on when output would ramp up again from its then-low levels.

As a result, Leonardo says work on the Dreamliner will need to pause: “Lower growth in the production and delivery of the Boeing 787 requires a four-month shutdown to align production with the short-term reduction in demand.”

No timeline for the halt has been disclosed, however, and will require agreement from workforce unions.

Leonardo is hopeful 787 production can be increased from early 2025.

AW609-2022-Phila-124 (002)

AW609 tiltrotor is currently built in Philadelphia in the USA

In the meantime, the manufacturer will further diversify operations at Grottaglie, adding a final assembly line for the AW609.

Briefing trade union representatives at the site on 24 June, the Italian manufacturer said the site had been selected “as the location for final assembly of the company’s AW609 in Italy”.

Initial customer examples of the AW609 are being built at the airframer’s US plant in Philadelphia, although the tiltrotor has yet to secure certification from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Leonardo says it sees sufficient demand for the AW609 to justify two assembly lines. The firm order backlog for the type numbers just six examples, Cirium fleets data records.

No date has been disclosed for AW609 production to begin in Grottaglie, however.

Faced with the suppressed 787 volumes, Leonardo has already moved to diversify work at the site, building composite structures for several early-stage programmes, including the wing for the Eurodrone and the fuselage for the Vertical Aerospace VX4 electric air taxi.

Although around 100 staff are dedicated to these aircraft, plus the Proteus uncrewed helicopter, none of the programmes is beyond the prototype stage.