Boeing is resorting to introducing repair and modification work to keep its Long Beach plant in California busy, following the reversal of plans to set up a Next Generation 737 assembly line at the former Douglas factory.

Boeing 737 operators face the prospect of their fleets requiring major modification work on the fuselage lap joints. An inital batch of around 250 aircraft will be affected over the next three years, and up to 2,200 in the longer term.

The work would result if a revised Boeing service bulletin (SB) to operators of high-cycle 737s is adopted as an airworthiness directive (AD) by the US Federal Aviation Administration. Affected lap joints are full fuselage length and longitudinally in line with the doors and windows. The SB is related to the recent discovery of fatigue-related cracks along a lower row of fasteners.

Boeing says it will offer to undertake the modification service work, which is not covered by warranties, at Long Beach. This will soften the impact of the 737 assembly line u-turn. The company had planned to begin building 737s in Long Beach last October and would have rolled out the first aircraft this month.

Following Boeing Commercial's company-wide review initiated by incoming president Alan Mulally in October, however, the opening of the new line was put on hold.

The dramatic production rate changes and job reductions announced by Boeing at the start of December are believed to have put paid to any chances of the Long Beach line being set up, although the production increases on the Renton 737 line is given as the official reason.

Within two years, the 717 will be the only airliner production line active at Long Beach, following the closure of the MD-80/90 and MD-11 lines during 2000.

The 737 modification could provide substantial work for Long Beach, provided Boeing devises overhaul packages competitive enough to secure the work against specialist maintenance shops.

The work is expected to take up to 8,000 man hours per aircraft, taking each out of service for a month. It could eventually be extended to cover up to 2,200 older "Classics" - high cycle 737 series 100s through to -500s, approaching 50,000 flights - by 2013.

Boeing will also use Long Beach for MD-11 cargo conversion work, following the contract from China Eastern Airlines for the modification of two aircraft, plus options for a further three conversions.

The work, to begin in late 1999, will be undertaken by the recently formed Boeing Airplane Services (BAS) business unit at Long Beach. BAS is responsible for the design and development of the DC-10/ MD-10 conversion for FedEx.

Source: Flight International