Boeing is facing the prospect of yet another delay in its early 787 deliveries. The airframer has devised a plan to address issues identified during flight-testing that must be carried out post-certification to turn partially completed airframes into deliverable passenger aircraft.

Sources inside Boeing and its supply chain say that a delivery schedule review should be complete in the coming weeks.

The airframer maintains that first delivery - to launch customer ANA - is on track for the middle of the first quarter of 2011, but adds that "flight testing is a dynamic process and we constantly review and manage risks and opportunities to the programme schedule".

787, ©Boeing
 © Boeing

Original plans called for the type to enter service with All Nippon Airways in May 2008, so any further postponement threatens to put the programme three years behind schedule.

Issues range from a flightdeck window popping sound discovered during flight-testing, cabin condensation issues, reworking passenger doors, resolving workmanship issues on the horizontal stabiliser and incorporating changes to the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine. All add up to slide the deliveries to the 787's earliest customers well into 2011 or potentially 2012.

One programme engineer says that to meet the mid-February delivery target for ANA all of the design changes for Airplane Seven, the first production 787, had to be released by engineering by the close of October.

However, the source adds that "there are some design changes that are not released yet but must be implemented to have the airplane certified" ahead of first delivery.

Boeing is reluctant to say how many 787s it expects to hand over to carriers in 2011.

Chief executive Jim McNerney has identified post-certification rework as a chief priority. "We are intensely focused on managing the change incorporation process on airplanes already built or in flow," McNerney said in the company's third-quarter earnings call, which maintained the February first delivery target.

"The early delivery schedule is comprised of a mix of airplanes coming off the production line and airplanes completing the change incorporation process."

Meanwhile, Spirit AeroSystems - which builds the forward fuselage, fixed leading edge and pylons for each 787 - warns that any further slowdown to the production ramp-up could put it under serious financial strain.

Source: Flight International