McNerney: Boeing 747-8 at More Risk of Schedule Slippage than 787 Dreamliner

 - August 13, 2010, 8:24 AM
The risk that first delivery of the first 747-8 to Cargolux will slip into next year appears to have increased due to what Boeing CEO Jim McNerney called workmanship and design issues. (Copyright Boeing)

Citing “a couple of workmanship issues, and a design issue or two,” Boeing CEO Jim McNerney planted another seed of doubt about the company's chances of delivering the first 747-8 before year-end. In fact, McNerney said the 787 Dreamliner-from which Boeing has already exhausted most of its schedule margin for delivery this year-stood a better chance of meeting its 2010 delivery goal than did the 747-8. 

“I would characterize both as normal flight-test programs in the sense that there's no major reconfiguration that's been driven by discoveries as we've gone through them,” said McNerney during the company's second-quarter earnings call. “With that said, I think the extent to which there's some risk to the schedule on the 787, I would characterize that as more [about] getting through lower-risk certification [tasks]-turn-times on telemetry, certification documentation. If you forced me to compare it, I'd say there's a little more risk on the 747-8.” 

Nevertheless, a 747 program spokesman told AIN last month that plans still call for delivery by year-end to launch customer Cargolux. Although he wouldn't speculate about the workmanship “issues” to which McNerney referred, he acknowledged the need for design changes, such as the “aerodynamic tweaks” to the main landing gear doors to address buffeting created by a 30-deg flap setting on landing. 

Still, “We haven't seen any show stoppers,” he said. “We're just grinding through some of the typical issues associated with flight testing.” However, any further hiccups would most likely shift first delivery into next year. “That's why we're working on building in flight-test efficiency, creating some contingency and trying to eliminate as much technical risk as we can,” added the spokesman. 

One way to mitigate that risk involved adding a fourth airplane to the flight-test program. Flying for the first time on July 22, that airplane performs non-instrumented engineering testing, relieving some of the workload carried by the three “core” test vehicles. Of course, an early measure involved moving flight testing from the Puget Sound region to primarily Palmdale, Calif., and Moses Lake, Wash. As of the last week of July, the second and third airplanes flew out of Palmdale, the first out of Moses Lake and the fourth out of Marana, Ariz. All told, at the time the program had flown a little more than 600 hours, said the spokesman.

Despite McNerney's guarded optimism about the 787 program, Boeing hasn't finished inspecting parts of the tail sections of flight-test and production 787s, several weeks after the Chicago-based aerospace giant identified some “workmanship issues” attributed to Italy's Alenia, the supplier of the 787's horizontal stabilizer. In an effort to resolve these issues, Boeing conducted an assessment of Alenia's manufacturing processes, which resulted in the need for more inspections of 787s, according to a company spokesperson.