Independent centers prep for 787 completion challenge

 - August 10, 2010, 12:38 PM

Boeing Business Jets has already sold a dozen of its new 787s for configuration as private aircraft, and the independent completion centers are climbing the learning curve required to install interiors in an all-composite fuselage.

While Boeing claims the structural interface will be “easier [than] or the equivalent” of an aluminum airplane, completion centers remain unconvinced, even after a one-week symposium at which the OEM met with representatives from most Boeing-approved facilities. “The fact is that we will have to rethink all the design engineering we’ve developed for aluminum airplanes,” said one completion center executive. 

Perhaps few OEMs have more experience than Hawker Beechcraft with completion of a composite-fuselage aircraft, including the Starship in the 1970s and more recently the Premier and the Hawker 4000. The answer to interior completion, said v-p of completions Vince Restivo, is laser mapping and bonding longitudinal T-rails the length of the fuselage to serve as attach points.

Some centers are content to wait and watch and learn. “We have avoided quoting 787 completions because the attachment structures for monuments and fittings are still a big unknown,” said Patrick Altuna of Associated Air Center.

BaySys of Accomac, Va., on the other hand, has already “talked with” some 787 buyers. Bill Hubbard, v-p of sales at BaySys, was one of the completion center representatives who attended the Boeing symposium and described it as a “productive” beginning.

The symposium, he said, included a visit to the assembly line, a look at a 787 interior and an opportunity to examine how Boeing has developed attach points and installation hardware for the airline version. “It has put in attach points on the frames and developed a whole new set of installation hardware to support window reveals, overhead panels, electrical systems and air conditioning,” said Hubbard, “and all with an eye to flexibility.”

A Lufthansa Technik specification engineer noted that with the 787 Boeing has a new philosophy with regard to floor attachments, which will be helpful, “and should we need additional ones, such as in the ceiling area, we will install them ourselves.”

At Gore Design Completions, director of business development Rob Tomenendal brought up the point of certification. “We haven’t yet had discussions with the FAA, but I can imagine it is going to be tough.”

Charles Celli, senior v-p of completions for Jet Aviation, is a little less concerned about certification from the FAA or EASA. “I think we’ll be fine. We’ll be getting a lot of help from Boeing, and the aviation certification authorities are just as interested in learning the technology as we are.”

Celli said Jet Aviation is looking closely
at three areas with regard to a 787 completion. There is the matter of acoustic transmission due to the overall composite structure; to what degree that structure will create electronic-magnetic interference with cabin equipment and antennas; and any installation problems that result from the flexing of the fuselage in flight and during pressurization and depressurization.

According to Celli, Jet Aviation has three letters of intent for 787 interior completions and the first airplane is expected to arrive in the second half of 2012. Jet Aviation is anticipating that the initial airplane will require nine to 12 months in the design and engineering phase, and 18 months “or a little more” completion cycle time from the time it rolls into the facilities in Basel.

Meanwhile, most of the independent centers approved by Boeing for widebody interior completion work–Altitude, Amac Aerospace, Associated Air Center, BaySys Technologies, Gore Design Completions, Greenpoint Technologies, Jet Aviation,  L-3 Communications Integrated Systems and Lufthansa Technik–are watching developments in the 787 cabin completion process.

“We believe Boeing is going to provide,” said Hubbard. “It’s not like they’re just going to toss it over the fence.”