Boeing Pushes First 787 Deliveries into Mid-First Quarter

 - August 27, 2010, 8:27 AM
ANA will now have to wait until the middle of next year’s first quarter for its first 787. As a result, the airline has postponed its first revenue flight until March and its first international service until at least May. (Copyright Boeing)

Boeing today announced yet another delay to the 787 program, following “an assessment of the availability of an engine needed for the final phases of flight test this fall.” This latest hiccup will force Boeing to suspend delivery of launch customer All Nippon Airways’ first 787 until the middle of next year’s first quarter, the Chicago-based airframer confirmed today.

Although the delay apparently centers on engine availability, Rolls-Royce denied that an August 2 ground testing failure of an engine meant for one of ANA’s airplanes had anything to do with Boeing’s latest announcement.

“We have been informed by Boeing that the currently planned dates for Trent 1000 engine deliveries will not support their latest flight-test program requirements,” Rolls-Royce said in a written statement. “We are working closely with Boeing to expedite delivery in support of their program schedule.

“Rolls-Royce confirms that the engine availability issue is unrelated to the test bed event which occurred earlier this month.”

A “Package A” Trent 1000 intended for one of ANA’s 787-8s had been undergoing testing at Rolls-Royce’s Derby, UK plant when an uncontained failure occurred in the intermediate pressure turbine. The IP spool on the Trent drives the generators, which supply the aircraft’s electrical power. Earlier this month, Rolls-Royce said it had devised a modification for later engines and didn’t anticipate any effect on the program. Boeing, meanwhile, preferred to suspend judgment, as its target of an end-of-year delivery to ANA already had risked slipping to the first weeks of 2011 due to horizontal stabilizer inspections and a change to flight test instrumentation. It has yet to fly a production 787, or, in fact, sixth flight test example. 

Rolls-Royce has used the delays in Boeing’s program over the last two years to incorporate new technology into the Trent 1000’s final build. Plans called for Boeing to fly Package B later this year on the fourth 787 flight-test aircraft, ZA004. It will feature a revised six-stage low-pressure turbine with high-aspect-ratio blades, a relocation of the intermediate compressor bleed offtake ports and fan outlet guide vanes with improved aerodynamics.

Meanwhile, Boeing risks further cancellation of orders if schedules slip further. Since the beginning of this year customers have canceled orders for 32 aircraft, but as of early August net orders stood at 847 aircraft. Perhaps more important to Boeing, however, further delays stand to erode its credibility and result in further financial penalties. Indeed, the learning curve for the 787 has been a long one, fraught with missteps leading to six program delays so far. Nevertheless, Boeing maintains that the 787’s troubles haven’t shaken its confidence, and that test programs by their nature present uncertainties.