Boeing Sets New 787 Test, Production Schedule

 - August 31, 2009, 8:32 AM
Photo by Jim Goodall

As Boeing’s Randy Tinseth related in his August 24 blog, the company’s employees “continued to keep [their] heads down” while the world’s media–press and bloggers alike–speculated on when the company would decide to fly the now more than two-year-delayed 787 Dreamliner. Only three days later company chairman, president and CEO James McNerney announced the airplane would take to the air by the end of this year and that deliveries would occur by the end of 2010. The more conservative estimate for first delivery stands in some contrast to earlier plans to complete flight testing in eight to nine months, but, according to vice president and general manager of airplane programs Pat Shanahan, the company’s planned testing approach hasn’t changed, only its desire to provide more “buffer” for its customers in the event of any further unforeseen disruptions.

“We really are seeing a lot of maturity in the airplanes themselves as we’re out there taxiing,” said Shanahan. “So if you talk to the pilots today, they’d tell you that the airplanes are ready to fly…But I’m feeling good, with the side-of-body fix, that the original plan is still solid. We haven’t departed from what we talked about in June, so the analysis has tracked as we originally thought, the design approach is within the envelope we originally thought, so really to date it’s been about ‘How do we maximize concurrency so we can go as quickly as possible?’”

Meanwhile, Boeing revealed that it cannot find customers for the first three test airplanes, forcing it to reclassify $2.5 billion in program inventory as research and development expense for the third quarter. CFO James Bell said the company remains confident it can remarket the final three test aircraft as VIP airplanes.

Although it would not issue guidance for 2011 and 2012, the company said it planned to build 10 Dreamliners a month by the end of 2013, and that it would have to open a second assembly line by the time it reaches a rate of seven airplanes per month. BCA president and CEO Scott Carson said the company would reach a decision on the location of a new line by the end of this year. He also confirmed that Boeing contacted the state of South Carolina for a construction permit to ensure no administrative delays if, in fact, the company decides to locate the line adjacent to the site of the recently purchased Vought facility in North Charleston.