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Boeing looks to ease overcrowding at Paine Field

Boeing will open its 787 change incorporation facility later this month in San Antonio, Texas, easing overcrowding at its overflowing Paine Field site, as it begins a push to ready aircraft for delivery.

There are nearly 30 787s in various stages of completion at Paine Field as Boeing attempts to work through more than 140,000 open assembly jobs, say programme sources.

Among those is Airplane 23, the first production GEnx-1B-powered 787 and the first in the colours of Japan Airlines. Following its planned early-March first flight, Airplane 23, also known as ZA177, will ferry to Texas, activating the facility that is expected to employ at least 400 workers.

Initially the Boeing Aerospace Support Center at Lackland AFB in San Antonio was due to support refurbishment and change incorporation of only the first six test aircraft. This number was increased in early 2008 to "at least 20" 787s, according to officials in San Antonio.

However, as required change incorporation has expanded significantly in recent years, that figure is almost certainly set to rise. Further, company sources indicate that 747-8s will be refurbished in Texas as well.

In Everett, the amount of outstanding work continues to grow. Every other week sees the arrival of a new 787 airframe, although the rate of open job creation has slowed as shipsets arrive at a higher level of completion, say those inside the factory.

As it moves closer to extended twin-engine operations testing and system functionality and reliability validations later this year - a specific timeline of which has not been provided - 787 vice-president and general manager Scott Fancher says the specific delivery phasing of the first 787s has not yet been decided as early production aircraft are added to the test effort.

Guiding that selection is establishment of the final production configuration, which is driven by required design changes that come out of the flight-test programme.

However, programme sources suggest Airplanes 7 to 9, 23, 24 and 31 and on have been elevated in priority for delivery in 2011, with the remaining airframes between 20 and 29 to be mixed in as they are completed.

The first 787 will be delivered to Japan's All Nippon Airways in the third quarter, the first of an estimated 12 to 20 of the composite aircraft scheduled for hand over this year.

Inside Boeing's 787 final assembly line, part shortages and rework for parts such as flaps still continue, although the line is beginning to display elements of its originally intended sequence with production aircraft being powered on during assembly operations. Airplane 31, at factory position four, closest to the front hangar door, is set to be the first production 787 activated in flow.

Additionally, Fancher says the updated first production power panels - the by-product of the 9 November electrical fire - arrived in Everett from supplier Hamilton Sundstrand on the weekend of 12 February.

The company has also received the first "Package B" Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines as well, which required further updates following the August uncontained failure on the test stand in Derby, UK and engine surge in New Mexico in September.

As production has stabilised, Fancher says a clear picture of the programme's unit costs have emerged as it works to stand up its Charleston and Everett surge lines, as well as solidify its global supply chain: "We understand our financials quite well," he says.

Overall, Fancher says the company has completed 80% of the certification testing of the Rolls-Royce-powered 787s, and 60% on the General Electric-powered models.

Boeing has also expanded its lease from three to four hangars at Aviation Technical Services in Everett to perform rework and change incorporation as aircraft are readied locally for delivery.

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