Despite progress, another delay for Boeing's Dreamliner

In March, the news was mixed for The Boeing Co. and its ongoing work to bring the composites-intensive 787 Dreamliner to fruition.

In March, the news was mixed for The Boeing Co. (Seattle, Wash.) and its ongoing work to bring the composites-intensive 787 Dreamliner to fruition. The company successfully completed tests of the horizontal stabilizer and the fuselage (see p. 17) but had to reinforce the wingbox for Airplane #1 to accommodate greater-than-expected plane weight. Although Boeing reported significant progress in the plane’s assembly, completion of work that “traveled” from supplier facilities to Boeing’s final assembly line was slower than anticipated. In early April, a combination of traveled work and unanticipated rework prompted Boeing’s not unexpected announcement of another delay.

Boeing has pushed the first flight of the Dreamliner to fourth quarter 2008. First delivery to All Nippon Airways has been pushed to third quarter 2009. Boeing is targeting 25 deliveries in 2009 — down from the 109 originally planned. Boeing officials say the delay, this time, is calculated with enough margin to avoid further delays. Pat Shanahan, 787 vice president and program manager, says, “The work that remains to be done on Airplane #1 is well defined, and we can see our way to — and have confidence in — the new milestones we have set for it. We have addressed the major challenges that slowed our progress while trying to complete the primary structure — the parts shortages, engineering changes, and manufacturing changes — and we are well into the systems installation that is the precursor to putting power on the airplane for the first time.”

Managing its far-flung and complex 787 supply chain appears to be Boeing’s biggest hurdle, and it has spent much time in recent months managing suppliers and trying to get its production schedule coordinated. “We have worked closely with our partners to achieve higher levels of completion of their parts of subsequent airplanes,” says Shanahan, “and we will continue to drive improvements in the supply chain and production system performance.”

In pursuit of those goals, Boeing acquired Ft. Worth, Texas-based Vought Aircraft Industries’ interest in Global Aeronautica LLC, the N. Charleston, S.C., fuselage subassembly facility for the 787. When the transaction is complete, the latter will be a 50/50 joint venture between Boeing and Alenia North America, a subsidiary of Alenia Aeronautica SpA (Rome, Italy). Global Aeronautica is responsible for joining, integrating and priming 787 fuselage sections received from Vought, Alenia and other structural partners. The joint venture also installs and tests associated systems. Vought will continue to produce the 787’s aft fuselage sections 47 and 48 at an adjacent facility. Alenia builds the center fuselage sections 44 and 46 and also manufactures the horizontal stabilizer. “All three partners in this transaction,” says Shanahan, “believe these changes will enable the 787 team to continue to overcome supply-chain challenges of the program.”