With some 30 airplanes in various stages of completion parked outside the 787 production line in Everett, Washington, Boeing’s goal to deliver at least a dozen of the carbon-fiber jetliners after it gains expected certification this year might seem as remote as its aim to meet each of its customers’ mission requirements. But not only does Boeing think it can deliver between 12 and 20 of the revolutionary airplanes by year-end, 787 program head Scott Fancher told reporters during a pre-Paris media briefing that the mostly composite jetliner will execute every mission its operators call on it to perform.
“As of today there are no customer missions that we cannot make,” he said. “And we work very closely with our customers to understand what that means. We’ve got block points that are going in at multiple locations to take weight out of the airplanes. We’ve got a series of engine improvements that both Rolls-Royce and GE are planning on. Over the next couple of years the combination of those two things will further improve the efficiencies of the airplane.”
Meanwhile, Boeing is counting on a deal to lease a hangar from Aviation Technical Services on the south end of Everett’s Paine Field to alleviate much of the pressure on delivery schedules. The hangar, which can hold up to five 787s, houses a dedicated staff and will serve as something akin to an extra assembly line to complete the airplanes still in need of varying degrees of out-of-sequence work. In early June Boeing had already begun what Fancher called pre-work inside the Everett factory on a pair of Royal Air Maroc 787s, the first two airplanes scheduled to undergo the process at ATS.
“When each airplane was built there were a series of design changes still flowing through the system…or quality-driven changes,” said Fancher. “So not all of those changes were incorporated into every airplane that was built [and now] we have to bring all those airplanes up to that delivery standard.”
Those changes fall into two categories, he explained. “One of those categories involves things a little more structural in nature. Many of you are aware that we had a quality issue with the horizontal stabilizers. Even though Alenia is delivering on schedule with the required quality, we still had to rework a number of airplanes that were already delivered. So that’s a good example of the pre-work that we’ll do before it goes into this ATS facility at the south end of Paine Field.”
Boeing plans to reach a monthly build rate of 10 airplanes by the end of 2013–seven in Everett and three at the company’s new plant in Charleston, South Carolina. To reach that rate on the schedule it has set, Boeing will need to stabilize the airplane’s configuration and, in so doing, achieve a repetitive build, increase productivity and quality and cut flow times. By Fancher’s estimation, the company has already made “good progress” in terms of its production system.
“As we complete the test and certification program, we’ve seen…design changes heal over quickly,” he said. “In fact, there are relatively few if any design changes at the front end of the pipeline.”
Fancher described the design changes in question as isolated in nature, a point he called “really important to us” because a lack of systemic or interrelated changes means further stability, quality and flow. Much of the out-of-sequence work left to do involves the mid-body sections that come from the former Global Aeronautica operation in North Charleston, although he declined to offer any detail about the level or type of work needed.
“I’m not going to get into that kind of detail, but I’ll tell you that the center body of the airplane is structurally the most complicated part of the airplane,” said Fancher. It is very typical, from a change perspective, that it is the last part of the airplane to settle down.”
Meanwhile, wing trailing edges supplied by Boeing Australia were conspicuously missing from airplanes Number 38 through 41 as they traveled down the line in Everett. “We’ve had some delivery issues with trailing edges on the wing,” Fancher confirmed. “We’ve got a recovery plan for those trailing edges, and actually none of those deliveries are pacing airplane deliveries at this point.”
Now some three years behind schedule, the 787 can ill afford any further threats to the so-called pacing of deliveries–or certification. Hoping to deliver 20 airplanes this year, Boeing still needs to fly its 787s some 300 hours to complete function and reliability testing and ETOPS approvals.
Fancher said the in-flight electrical fire aboard the second 787 prototype last November as it approached Laredo, Texas, would not compromise Boeing’s ability to gain ETOPS certification in due course. “We wouldn’t be entering into [function and reliability] and ETOPS [testing] if both we and the FAA weren’t convinced where the maturity was where it needed to be,” he insisted.
Planning to begin function and reliability and ETOPS testing late this month, Boeing expected to finish the last so-called test point on all six flight test airplanes early during the week starting June 5. As of the first week June, the company had entered the final stages of the process required to receive type inspection authority (TIA), which allows the company to proceed with function and reliability and ETOPS testing.
At the time of the press tour, Boeing had produced all but about 150 of the 4,200 so-called certification products required by the regulatory authorities, and needed to send only some 35 more to the FAA, noted Fancher. “The remainder of what will be accrued by Boeing is part of our delegated responsibility consistent with the regulatory process,” he said.
By then Boeing and launch customer All Nippon Airways will have finished so-called service readiness operations with the second 787 prototype–ZA002–at several airports in Japan. Scheduled for the week of July 4, the program will include trips between Haneda Airport in Tokyo and airports in Osaka (Itami and Kansai), Okayama and Hiroshima. The first flight will mark the 787’s maiden appearance in Japan.
“We will, in essence, induct that airplane into ANA’s operating system and maintenance system, and for a period of time we’re going to operate that airplane very much like it was an ANA airplane,” said Fancher. During that time, officials from Japan’s Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) will observe the operation, he added. “And then there’s a series of regulatory milestones associated with the JCAB that both ANA and we have to work on.”
ANA stands as the launch customer for the Dreamliner aircraft and holds orders for 55 airplanes. Boeing plans to deliver the first 787-8 to ANA in either August or September.