Boeing Plans for Future without 787 Reliability Headaches

 - October 28, 2013, 11:30 AM
Boeing expects 787 production rates to reach 12 a month by 2016 and 14 a month before the end of the decade. (Photo: Boeing)

Less-than-satisfactory dispatch reliability of the Boeing 787 hasn’t discouraged the company’s ambitions to ensure enough airplanes roll out of the two Dreamliner factories to meet delivery commitments. Now building 787s at a rate of seven per month, the company announced plans last week to raise rates from the 10 per month targeted for the end of this year to 12 per month by 2016 and 14 a month before the end of the decade.

Speaking during the company’s third-quarter earnings call last Wednesday, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney trumpeted the healthy state of the airliner manufacturing business overall, despite the company’s recent announcement that it would lower rates of 747-8 production from 1.75 to 1.5 per month due mainly to a weak cargo market.

“As a result of this continued strong demand [in the passenger segment], deferral requests from customers are running well below the historical average, and requests to accelerate airplane deliveries continue at a healthy pace,” reported McNerney.

He also expressed disappointment, however, in the uneven reliability performance of the 787, and promised that the company “would do better” in its effort to rectify the situation. “While we’re seeing more customer-by-customer variation than we’d like…we’re making good progress at reducing those dispatch reliability issues,” said McNerney. “While we are not yet satisfied with our fleet-wide performance, even though it is at around 97 percent on average, we have made some progress implementing a series of component, software and spare parts placement improvements, but we still have more work to do.”

Boeing’s component improvements have involved engineering changes, including software upgrades to address false cockpit messages. McNerney added that about a third of the problems experienced by operators involve erroneous messages. “That is frustrating for us and very frustrating for our customers,” he said. “So, it’s all hands on deck…” Sixteen customers now operate 96 Dreamliners. The fleet flies an average of 200 revenue flights a day.

McNerney also reiterated plans to launch the 777X by the end of this year, while lamenting the company’s failure to win an order from Japan Air Lines for 31 airplanes in its size category. That contract went instead to Airbus for its A350. McNerney wouldn’t react to suggestions that the reliability problems with the 787 contributed to the contract loss, however.

“Obviously that’s a campaign we did not want to lose,” he said. “I can’t speak for JAL on why they chose the other airplane…We will take this as a sign to redouble our efforts.”