Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Boeing is the latest business jet manufacturer to experience delays getting aircraft into service, as the completions industry struggles to cope with record production levels.

First Gulfstream and then Bombardier faced problems with a lack of capacity and long cycle times for completions of other new ultra-long-range business jets. Now Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) customers face a long wait for completed aircraft.

BBJ completions are taking 11-13 months, says Dayton Robinson, director, completions oversight. The company is working with its six designated completion centres to reduce the cycle time to between four and six months, he says. Unlike Bombardier and Gulfstream, Boeing cannot complete aircraft itself.

Boeing has delivered 36 BBJs to completion centres, but only eight have entered service so far. The biggest bottlenecks are at Jet Center, which has delivered one BBJ and has four more on site; and at Raytheon, which has delivered two, but has 17 more on site.

"These two centres are having difficulties," says Robinson. The major concern is Raytheon, which accounts for 26 of the 47 BBJ completion contracts signed so far - including nine for Executive Jets' NetJets fractional ownership programme. "Raytheon took on many more aircraft early on than it should have," he says.

Robinson says completion centres were not prepared for the rapid ramp-up in BBJ deliveries, or for the aircraft's complexity. He admits that customers have contributed to the problems by delaying signing completion contracts and then continuing to demand changes. "With reasonable lead time, we could complete an aircraft in four to six months," he says.

Raytheon is expected to be back on schedule by early 2001, "and the others sooner", Robinson says. "We want them to be successful, and we are trying to help them." While acknowledging some customer displeasure with Raytheon, he says: "Near term, there are no open slots elsewhere."

Several slots have been booked by Bombardier, which has been forced to subcontract some Global Express completions in a drive to accelerate deliveries. The company has delivered 42 aircraft, but only 10 have entered service so far - 26 are in Bombardier's own completion centres in Montreal and Tucson, three are in completion at Marshall in the UK, two at Jet Center, and BFGoodrich receives its first aircraft this month.

Bombardier plans to have 25-30 aircraft in service by year-end, by which time it will have delivered almost 70. Each outside centre is expected to receive four aircraft this year. Global Express completions take 40-45 weeks, but Bombardier aims to reduce this to 35 weeks by year-end.

Gulfstream, about to deliver its 100th GV, believes it has overcome completion problems - largely as a result of the 1998 acquisition of K-C Aviation. The company completed 76 GIVs and GVs last year, including 18-20 at former K-C sites, says president Bill Boisture.

GV completions take 28-34 weeks, but Gulfstream aims to drive this down. "Our goal is to go from a new order to entry into service in 12-15 months. We're not quite there," he says.

Like Bombardier, Gulfstream has invested heavily in expanding its in-house completion capability. The company has begun a $3 million expansion of its Brunswick, Georgia, centre to outfit GVs for Executive Jets. The site already completes GIVs for the fractional-ownership programme.

Boisture expects completions to remain at their current high level for another two years, after which Gulfstream plans to use the capacity "to take more of the refurbishment market".

The company is targeting substantial avionics upgrades for GIVs where "the complexity of the installation gives the original manufacturer an advantage".

Source: Flight International