In the most detailed explanation yet, Program Manager Pat Shanahan described the steps Boeing is taking toward the first flight and eventual deliveries of the new plane to customers. He left no doubt the biggest cause of the latest six-month delay and risk to the new schedule is relying on partners to build key components of the airplane.
“Where do I think risk is? The capability of the supply chain. That is the untested part of this production model,” he said, adding no significant technical issues remain other than what could be found in testing. “It’s just a matter of burning through the work.”
Shanahan’s detailed explanation in his characteristic monotone of what’s been done and what’s left seemed to placate financial analysts and the media. They've asked much tougher questions on previous update calls. The latest schedule, which Shanahan labeled “more conservative” was born out of a comprehensive analysis of the existing production schedule promised in January.
Shanahan’s remarks came just after Boeing announced a new six-month delay this morning in the first flight to fourth quarter this year and first delivery to September 2009. Boeing said deliveries next year will be “approximately 25” down from its previous forecast of 109 and the full production rate of 10 a month will not be achieved until 2012. Orders for the 787, according to CEO of Boeing Commercial Planes Scott Carson, stand at “892 from 61 or 62 commercial customers.”
Shanahan broke down the new schedule this way:
Stiffening spars in the wing box, which called for additional brackets and “simple parts” caused a two-month “deterioration” in the previous schedule. That pushed the critical first “power on” milestone from April to June because the “rework” caused a one-month delay as it fell “right in the middle of the critical path for wiring and systems installation.”
He also said Boeing will extend testing by two months, which should give the company breathing room for unforeseen problems that arise in testing. “If we do not need that time, we will not use it,” he said. Clearly with no margin for contingencies in previous schedules, Boeing got burned. Shanahan’s new schedule seems to fix that.
He also said much progress has been made and there would be no compromises in the “operational efficiencies” as designed. On large components Shanahan said the wings are almost ready, as is the fuselage.
“We will take the wings to the point of destruction. We’ve put the ultimate load on the stabilizers and fuselage,” he said. “We tested the composite test barrel to where we nearly broke the test fixture before we broke the barrel,” he said, adding there were “a few minor problems.”
Boeing still has 15 percent of the component testing to perform, which will be done by the end of Q2 culminating “in static and fatigue tests on the full-scale airframe in the next few months.” Shanahan said Boeing has yet to decide if it would destruction-test a full airplane. Also, planes 3 and 4 will enter final assembly before June 30, he said.
As for the mechanical and electronic systems, Shanahan said only the brake controls, in-flight entertainment, aspects of the power systems and maintenance functionality of the flight control remain to be tested. The airplane has 2,700 system elements and 900 component part numbers. The fastener shortage and software work blamed for causing delays last Fall have largely been resolved, he said.
“The 777 was service-ready five months after its first flight. The majority of the 787 will be service-ready four months before first flight,” he said. Only a “handful of open issues” remain for defining the certification flight tests, which will begin in the first quarter of 2009 using six test airplanes. The GE engines were certified on March 31 and the chief test pilot has been certified on both the GE and Rolls engines, he said. According to Shanahan, Boeing and the FAA have found a “path forward” to resolve lightning protection issues.
Finally, Shanahan addressed how the problem was found in the wing box spars.
“We had a finite element analysis error. It’s like building a house with nails except on an airplane you analyze every nail,” he said, referring to clips and fasteners in the wing box.
Several questions pertained to how deeply the delays will bite into the 892 orders, delay penalties paid to customers and financial problems experienced by some of Boeing’s key 787 suppliers. Carson and Shanahan declined to elaborate or said the issues would be addressed in Boeing’s quarterly results call on April 23. Last week, Boeing bought Vought Aircraft Industries’ interest in Global Aeronautica LLC, which has had problems delivering parts of the fuselage on time.