Boeing: 787 on track for first flight by year's end

Reinforcement of side-of-body composites structures are under way, to be followed by new round of fatigue testing. First three flight-test airplanes will be reclassified as research and development craft.

The Boeing Co. (Chicago, Ill., USA) announced on Aug. 27 that the first flight of the composites-intensive 787 Dreamliner is expected by the end of 2009 and first delivery is expected to occur in fourth quarter 2010.

The new schedule reflects the previously announced need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft, along with the addition of several weeks of schedule margin to reduce flight test and certification risk. The company projects achieving a production rate of 10 airplanes per month in late 2013.

"This new schedule provides us the time needed to complete the remaining work necessary to put the 787's game-changing capability in the hands of our customers," said Boeing chairman, president and CEO Jim McNerney. "The design details and implementation plan are nearly complete, and the team is preparing airplanes for modification and testing."

Based on the revised schedule and other assumption updates, the company has determined that the 787 program is not in a forward-loss position. However, separate from the updated program profitability assessment, the company has concluded that the initial flight-test airplanes have no commercial market value beyond the development effort due to the inordinate amount of rework and unique and extensive modifications made to those aircraft. Therefore, costs previously recorded for the first three flight-test airplanes will be reclassified from program inventory to research and development expense, resulting in an estimated non-cash charge of $2.5 billion pre-tax, or $2.21 per share, against third-quarter results. This charge will have no impact on the company's cash outlook going forward.

The 787 team working the side-of-body reinforcement has completed initial testing and is finalizing design details of new fittings that are expected to ensure full structural integrity of the joint. The static test procedure that uncovered the issue will be repeated and the results fully analyzed before first flight is conducted. Fatigue testing also will be performed on stringer components to validate the long-term durability of the modification. The first 787 test airplane and static test unit have been prepared for the new fittings. Installation is expected to begin within the next few weeks.

In other Boeing news, it was revealed last week that the company had filed permits with the city of North Charleston, N.C., to expand the 787 composites fuselage manufacturing faclity that Boeing recently acquired from Vought Aircraft Industries (Dallas, Texas, USA). Speculation throughout the aerospace industry is that Boeing will use the site as the eventual location of a second 787 assembly facility, however, Boeing has not confirmed this.