Farnborough, England: Even though manufacturing glitches have begun to shave off the margins Boeing had kept in terms of some extra time in the schedule, the 787 Dreamliner aircraft will make its first flight this fall, with deliveries beginning in the third quarter of 2009. This was disclosed at a press briefing at the Farnborough Air Show by Boeing's 787 programme chief, Pat Shanahan.
Shanahan said completing the mid-body sections of Dreamliner aircraft numbers 1 and 2, is the main issue putting pressure on the schedule for getting the first airplane into the air. Both Dreamliners are now on the assembly line at Everett, and before number 1 can take to the air, number 2 needs to be completed as it would be used for ground verification tests, a prerequisite for first flight.
Shanahan got the buffer margins for these issues when the Dreamliner's schedule was revised this spring. He says he's been eating into those margins while completing the number 2's mid-body, though he does not want to.
The mid-body of Dreamliner number 4 is still at Charleston, South Carolina, and will arrive almost three weeks later than planned because of manufacturing glitches at Boeing's Global Aeronautica supplier plant there. The schedule needed that section at Everett by the end of June, but the upper part of the 85-foot long fuselage suffered some damage last month when a mechanic misdrilled holes. Thereafter, the factory shut down for a day to conduct mandatory training, as an audit by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that mechanics were not following required procedures.
A number of permanent workers at the Aeronautica plant are new to aerospace manufacturing, with the workforce at the plant supplemented by contract mechanics from across the United States and also from supplier partners in Italy and Japan.
Global Aeronautica is a 50:50 joint venture between Boeing and Alenia of Italy.
Amongst Shanahan's list of woes was incomplete work coming into Global Aeronautica from its suppliers, as the site lacked engineering resources to deal with problems created from such unfinished work.
Moreover, the brake monitoring system identified as problematic in May this year will take more than a few months to fix, as it is a certification issue. Apparently, the software that monitors the brakes does not have the complete development documentation needed to get certified. "It's not that the brakes don't work," Shanahan joked.
Shanahan used humour to shrug off problems, which he said were typical, yet unpredictable, in any airplane development programme.