Boeing is studying setting up a Next Generation 737 production line at its Douglas Products division site in Long Beach, California, although it says that the plan, if it gets the go-ahead, would not take place before 1999.

The study was announced as part of changes designed to ease the production problems still besetting the company's overworked Renton site where 737s and 757s are built.

More immediate moves include flying 10 737s to Long Beach for completion of interiors. Five of the aircraft are Next Generation test aircraft that will be reconverted to customer configuration before flying back to Seattle for painting and delivery. The balance will have interiors completed.

In addition, Boeing plans to transfer delivery work on some 757s from Renton and Boeing Field to Everett, freeing production crews normally assigned to the larger twin to assist with 737 pre-flight and delivery work. The move comes as 737 production rates are on course to accelerate to 21 a month by the end of this year, from the present 14 a month, and as Boeing Field crews prepare for the start of 757-300 flight testing by the middle of this year.

The decision on the setting up of a new 737 line at Long Beach will be made "this summer", according to aircraft production executive vice-president Fred Mitchell. Much of the decision hinges on the reaction of the machinists' union in Seattle, which, by law, requires up to 90 days notice of the action.

The study foresees the setting up of a line for "on-standard" configuration 737s such as Boeing Business Jets (BBJs) and the convertible freighter 737-700C variant, leaving Renton to concentrate on high volume production of passenger variants. The first BBJ is due for delivery at the end of this year and the first deliveries of the -700C are scheduled for 2000.

Although Boeing says that no decisions on the logistics of the operation have yet been made, it is expected that fuselages for the Long Beach line would continue to be assembled at Wichita, Kansas, and shipped by rail to California.

New assembly jigs will be required for Long Beach, which, by late 1999, will be seeing the final assembly of MD-80s and MD-90s on order. New jigs are expected to be relatively easily produced, thanks to the gradual introduction of digitally based assembly techniques developed for other projects under the recent fuselage assembly integration team initiative.

It is also thought that wings, tails and stabilisers would not be produced separately at Long Beach, but transported to California as subassemblies from Renton.

Source: Flight International