On the eve of the Boeing 787’s official unveiling on Sunday (8 July 2007), company executives acknowledge that the final assembly status of the first aircraft is slightly behind compared to previous programmes.
Boeing is planning a massive effort to prepare the twinjet for first flight by late September, a key step in meeting a series of rapid-fire milestones for its first new aircraft production programme since the 777 made its debut in 1993.
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The company has to complete final assembly on time in order to meet a compressed, eight-month, flight test schedule with six test aircraft, and make first delivery to launch customer All Nippon Airways in May 2008.
Meanwhile, the company is simultaneously preparing to start building 112 aircraft per year by 2008, a pace requiring a new aircraft delivery nearly every three days.
Boeing remains committed to meeting that schedule despite being “probably a little further behind than some” previous new aircraft programmes at this stage of final assembly, said Scott Strode, vice president, airplane development and production.
Mike Bair, Boeing’s vice president and general manager, said half-jokingly that the one-hour break in the factory to unveil the 787 will be immediately followed by “a horde of mechanics” descending on the airplane to continue assembling the jet.
Boeing’s engineers and mechanics have much left to do before first flight is possible, ranging from resolving a fastener supply crisis to installing nearly the entire systems suite to dropping up to two more software loads into the aircraft’s computers and support equipment.
On the bright side, Bair said, the aircraft’s two powerplant options – the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 and General Electric GEnx – have progressed more smoothly than expected.
“I’ve been on a number of new airplane programmes in my career and I can’t remember a single one where engines weren’t at the top of the list of things to be worried about,” Bair said, “and they are not high on the list of this programme, so they both have done a remarkable job of running their certification programmes.”
More worrisome has been the timely availability of fasteners for the first jet, which arrived at final assembly in May with thousands of temporary fasteners that must be replaced with the aircraft’s designated bolts, nuts and screws.
About 1,000 temporary fasteners still remain in the first jet, Bair said. However, another executive – Thomas Cogan, chief project engineer -- told reporters there may be actually be several thousand temporary fasteners needing removal.
“We are experts at expediting parts and we are expediting a lot of parts right now in order to make sure we get the production system running the way it needs to run,” Bair said. “So, I would characterize the issues that we’ve got as not untypical from what we’ve had on past airplane programs.”
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