Boeing Uses Delays to Fine-tune 787 Maintenance Plan

 - October 30, 2009, 6:52 AM

While no one at Boeing would dare admit to any level of satisfaction with six separate delays to first flight of the 787, silver linings do exist behind the cloud that has hung over the program for the better part of two and a half years. Take, for example, the airplane’s maintenance schedules. Afforded extra time to perform a more thorough analysis of the 787’s requirements, program chief mechanic Justin Hale and his team managed to win certification for virtually all of the airplane’s 760 recommended intervals.

“Certifying a maintenance program and getting all of the data transmitted to the FAA and the industry steering committee, [having it] analyzed and settling on certifiable intervals is always a challenge when you’re putting a new type into service. And you always feel rushed to get that done,” said Hale. “The nature of this industry is if you don’t feel like you have enough time to analyze something thoroughly, then you err way on the side of caution.”

The 787, in particular, with its composite fuselage and “more electric” systems architecture, appeared a likely to follow that pattern after its maintenance steering group–consisting of 26 airlines, 12 suppliers and representatives from eight regulators from around the globe–first submitted what everyone expected would be the final data to the FAA and EASA in fall 2007. After 62 weeks of meetings over the span of three years, in fact, the agencies rejected some 400 of the 760 recommended maintenance intervals due to what they deemed insufficient data. 

 “If the airplane had been on time we likely would have certified the maintenance program right there with shorter intervals for those 400 tasks,” said Hale.

As the program continued to confront delays, however, Hale and his team could revisit the recommendations, provide more data to the FAA, EASA and the steering committee and ultimately gain approval for the 400 previously rejected intervals on Dec. 16, 2008.

Now working with his maintenance operations team primarily on the 787’s next iteration (the -9), Hale said Boeing will use the next variant as a “weight reduction block point,” meaning it willl need to ensure that any weight reduction efforts don’t compromise the maintenance guarantees set by the company.

For the first time in its storied history Boeing will guarantee to every customer that the 787 will cost a given amount less to maintain than the airplane it replaces. In the case of an airline flying 767-300ERs, Boeing guarantees at least a 30-percent reduction. “That number varies from customer to customer and gets tweaked a little based on [the customer’s] operational profile, but I don’t recall seeing a number lower than 30 percent,” said Hale.

Thanks to the maintenance staff’s perseverance–and a lot of help from the program delays–Hale expects Boeing to meet its commitments with little trouble.  
“I don’t believe that there’s a single interval that we ended up pulling back from our recommendations with all that analysis,” said Hale. “That never would have happened if we didn’t have that additional time.”