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Boeing to deliver 5-6 787s in 2011, 787-9 EIS set to slip to 2014

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Boeing 787 Dreamliner N787BA ZA001

With final certification submittals to the US Federal Aviation Administration in sight, Boeing aims to deliver the first 787 to Japan's All Nippon Airways around the third week of September, but is not likely to deliver more than five or six 787s before the close of the year, say company and industry sources, who say the slow pace of progress of reworking and outfitting each airframe is taking longer than expected.

Further, ahead of a planned critical program review in the late summer or early fall, an entry into service slip of the larger 787-9 appears almost certain, say company, supplier, industry sources pushing handover to of the first aircraft to launch customer Air New Zealand into the first half of 2014 with an additional delay of three to six months, due to a slower than expected pace of design, possibly paired with a more modest production ramp up.

Boeing said it would provide updated 2011 delivery guidance at its July 27 second quarter earnings call, but declined to say if it would update its 787-9 entry into service target from its late 2013 goal, but said its current target remains unchanged.

Yet the company's near term halt in deliveries to final assembly highlights the remaining challenges of how the 787 production system learns and achieves 10 aircraft per month by 2013, all while standing up its second final assembly line in Charleston.

Sources on both sides of the US say that completion of the 787's aft body has been of particular focus during the delivery hold, which is expected to expire in early August.

"The adjustment is due to a few production areas in the supply chain experiencing temporary challenges related to spot parts shortages and remaining engineering change incorporation," says Boeing.

Going into the month-long delivery hold, the first shipsets for the newly opened Charleston final assembly were the first to be delivered with 100% completion of assembly, the first in the program's history.

While on its surface an extremely positive development for a program that has worked for years to eliminate incomplete shipsets, multiple sources confirm that both Airplane 45 had considerably lower completion in comparison to earlier aircraft, and Airplane 47 - which has not yet been delivered to Everett - was expected to carry considered travelled work before the delivery halt.

The cause, say those with direct familiarity in Everett and Charleston, stemmed from Airplanes 45 and 47 being "cannibalized" for Airplane 46's completion.

Boeing says: "We're not confirming supplier by supplier details, nor completion of assembly by line number." 

boeingfirstwings_t600.jpg The Aerospace Learning Curve

While Boeing has sought to take advantage of lean manufacturing techniques built into the production system, the reality, and the uneveness of completion, illustrates how the lean processes have been hard to meet deeper in the supply chain.

Notably, that as completion of assembly decreases and work is pushed later in the supply chain or even to final assembly, those responsible for the task completion are denied the opportunity to learn a steady repetition in their statement of work, say those with direct familiarity with the 787's production system.

Though the 787 final assembly line in Everett is definitively improving say company sources, citing Airplane 40 as an important turning point, with the first to have all of its flight controls - including long-missing flaps - installed before leaving the factory, along with its auxiliary power unit.

Despite the steady improvement the unevenness in production, and the amount of rework required on Airplanes ahead of 40, highlight how aerospace manufacturing systems "learn" at different rates.

The industry standard places the "curve" at around 85%. An 85% learning curve denotes for every doubling of production, the cost of each completed aircraft is reduced by another 15%.

For example, if the first item is at the top of the learning curve costs $1, the second will cost $.85 to produce. The fourth will cost 85% of the second at $.72, and the eighth 85% of fourth.

"The 85% learning curve is kind of the text book long-range average," says Scott Fancher, 787 vice president and general manager, "But in fact, when we look at our database of actual learning curves across many programs, you see quite a wide variation."

"It really depends upon the automation, the maturity of that automation the complexity of the structure being put together, the quality and the experience of workforce and the training of the workforce.

"It's hard to draw conclusions about what you would expect on 787 from that number," he adds.

In areas that have seen very little traveled work and not had a lot of design changes, Fancher says, "our productivity and quality numbers are better than our projections, we're very pleased the way that aspect is coming together."

When asked if those areas were exceeding the 85% textbook curve, Fancher would only say "They're doing better than our projections" without offering specifics.

UBS Research analyst, David Strauss, said in a June report that estimated the 777's learning curve to be approximately 84%, ahead of the industry average.

"Our analysis indicates that Boeing is assuming much faster learning on 787 than it was able to achieve on 777 despite having less control of production this time," says Strauss, who estimates that each 787 costs approximately $250 to 300 million.

Based on Boeing's disclosure that it expects its per aircraft cost to fall below the program's averaged cost as it hits its production rate of 10 per month at the end of 2014, the 787 production system must achieve a 24% learning curve, nearly 50% higher than 777.

If Boeing achieves a learning curve comparable to the 777 "we see 787 burning $4 billion in cash on average annually through 2015," he adds. 

The Final Weeks

Boeing is anticipating completion of 787 extended operations (ETOPS) and systems functionality and reliability (F&R) testing by the close of July, following Airplane Nine's remote deployment to Guam, which is underway.

Company sources expect final documentation is expected to be handed over to the US Federal Aviation early to mid August with an approximately 30 day review period to follow culminating in awarding of the 787's type certificate in early September.

The handover of Airplane Eight is expected around the third week of September, with Airplane 24 to follow closely after, the subsequent airframes at Boeing ATS - are advancing, but not at the pace needed to make room allowing for the 12 to 20 787 deliveries the company forecast earlier this year.

According to Leeham Co, Boeing guidance is expected to be closer to eight or nine 787s delivered in 2011.

The first 787 for launch customer All Nippon Airways will enter revenue service in October connecting a charter route between Tokyo-Narita International Airport and Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport.

Second Photo Credit Boeing

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