Tuesday, April 29, 2008

787 Back on Track?

While it is way too soon to say that the 787 program is back on track, recent milestones seem to indicate that Boeing is getting the 787 house (and assembly line) back in order. In the conference call on April 9th, Pat Shanahan had outlined goals or milestones for the 787 program for the remainder of the 2nd quarter of 2008. These include:

* Static airplane will move out of the factory at the end of April to make room for the third flying airplane. Parts for airplane 3 will arrive in Everett by the end of April
* Power on date moved to June 2008* Fatigue airplane will move to its test stand in June shortly followed by parts for airplane #4 to enter final assembly in June* By June 30th will have static and fatigue frames out at their test sites, final assembly begun on airplanes 3 and 4 in Everett, completing systems hardware airworthiness qualifications, finishing safety of flight testing for system hardware and software integration, and receiving flight test systems hardware.

From recent flight made by the LCF and the recent movement of the static test airframe from building 40-26 to 40-23 for the start of static tests, it looks like Boeing is on its way to accomplishing the first goal listed. Parts for Airplane 3 are in Everett and the static frame has been moved out of the 787 final assembly hall. Additionally the fatigue air frame has moved to the third assembly position and LN 2 has moved to the 2nd assembly position thus clearing the way for LN 3 to start final assembly.

While there is some assembly yet to be done on the static airplane, that will be done concurrently with the setup for the static tests. Those tests are expected to start this summer.

Boeing now has two months to get airplane 1 ready for power on and ground testing as well as start assembly of airplane 4 and all the while there are still lingering doubts about the program and if Boeing has been conservative enough with its schedule. As many analysts (and Boeing itself) have said, once they’ve powered on airplane 1 then a significant amount of risk would have been retired and the path should be clear (assuming no major issues that are uncovered during ground testing) to first flight. This is the key metric to watch for in the short term.

One thing that is working in Boeing’s favor (a lesson learned from the A380 delays) is that they and their risk sharing partners took advantage of the delays to wring out the systems in the test labs in Seattle, reduce the travel work sent by the suppliers, and maturing the systems hardware and software (mainly the flight control software). This will go a long way in having a mature airplane at first flight as well as make progress on non-flight testing certification tests and deliverables for the FAA/EASA certification.

Now one month does not a trend make and the real indication of the health of the program will be realized on June 30th. If Boeing provides customers, analysts and shareholders with short term goals for the quarter and it achieves those goals then Boeing management will have come a long way to repairing their image and reputation.

Now I think Boeing was a little too conservative in their time line and they could perhaps achieve first flight earlier. I do think that power on will be achieved by June 30th and that power on testing as well as ground testing and taxi test could take two months. That takes you to August 30th. Boeing can then have first flight in early September...late in the third quarter. Now assuming a 10 month flight testing program and certification brings the time to early July 2009…2nd quarter of 2009 for first delivery and EIS as opposed to 3rd quarter 2009. Is this achievable? Sure but at the same time Boeing has to mature the systems with aggressive testing and carefully manage the production ramp up.

Boeing needs to give Wall Street, customers, and shareholders detailed quarterly goals and milestones that they need to meet in order for the confidence to be rebuilt in the company and in the program. These goals and milestones shouldn’t be for just Boeing itself but also for the partners and suppliers. Already there are reports that Vought will be starting to ship fully stuffed rear fuselages (section 47/48) sometime between June and September (more likely September and with that section will be from Dreamliner #6). Certainly with Boeing buying out Vought’s share of Global Aeronautica, it’ll have more control over what happens there but will allow Boeing to continuously look over Vought’s shoulder.

Going Forward

While in the short term Boeing has made some strides to recovery, there are risks that remain as well as questions about the 787.

Flight Testing and Certification – After power on is accomplished Boeing needs to hope for a relatively smooth flight tests of the airplane if they are to keep to schedule. What will also be critical is Boeing’s change incorporation program. When issues crop up during testing the changes and fixes must be incorporated back from the planes that were built all the way back through the supply chain to the planes that are just starting the production process. How Boeing and the supply base handle all that is going to remain critical to getting production moving. For that reason Boeing won’t be producing 787s in any great numbers until almost all the test flights and certification paperwork is done. Rumors were going around that the FAA is going to force Boeing to do more certification work then previously agreed and that it would mean that EIS wouldn’t occur until 2010. The German magazine that reported this said that Boeing would announce a fourth delay due to the extra certification work in mid May. Both the FAA and Boeing denied the story and there hasn’t been any further news on that. Still issues could come up during flight testing that might force the FAA to ask Boeing to do further modifications and tests to give them satisfaction. At least worries of cold soak tests are put to rest.

Production – With 25 planned deliveries in 2009 Boeing’s big worry after flight testing is ramping up production and catching up with deliveries. Pre-delay, Boeing was planning to deliver 112 787s between May 2008 and December 2009. Now they’re planning on only 25. Assuming that they stay on that schedule they will be behind by 87 airplanes. That’s roughly 4 airplanes per month. Boeing needs to find someway of making up those 87 deliveries. Boeing is starting to plan out a gradual production increase to approximately 10/month by 2012 but how that will resolve the backlog is unclear. Production is also key for future orders as Boeing’s salespeople need to give a time frame to potential (and current customers) about when they can expect their airplanes given these delays. That’s going to be a factor of planned production rates as well as what the suppliers can reasonably be expected to produce.

Weight – Before the delays took the stage as the main issue, the 787s 2% weight gain (about 5000 lbs.). We have not had an update on this issue though previously Boeing said that they expect that the 787 will meet its weight goals by airplane #7. Whether that is still going to be achieved is unclear and good represent risk on only to the -8 but also to the other variants. Already there have been reports that the -9 variant is also overweight and that the fix to the center wing box added some (though negligible) weight gain. Through static, fatigue and flight testing Boeing can identify over engineered structural parts and target them for weight savings. What remains to be seen is how fast those changes can be incorporated into all the produced airplanes if at all. The delay may make it hard for Boeing to achieve the target weight for airplane # 7.

Future Variants – Boeing has pushed back the service entry for the larger -9 variant to 2012, a two year delay and pushed the -3 to an undetermined sate beyond that. Clearly Boeing is looking to make up time to most customers by delivering as many of the -8 as possible (to date they have 646 -8 orders, 207 -9 orders and 43 -3 orders). Also to be determined is the specs and EIS date for the -10. Boeing has put this off for several reasons: 1) They want to know what they’re competing with in terms of the A350-900 and 2) They need to get flight test data in order to see to help design the -10. When they offer the -10 Boeing can be well poised for the A340/777-200ER replacement market. In my opinion an EIS for the -10 cannot be reasonably expected before 2014 at the earliest.

On April 9th Boeing execs gave us details of the delay as well as milestones that they have set of themselves and the program. One thing that was noticeably different was the greater detail this time around. They gave goals that they intend to accomplish between April 9th and June 30th and it would be expected that around early July they will probably give goals that they intend to accomplish for the 3rd quarter of 2008 as well as an overview of what they did and did not accomplish in the 2nd quarter. This transparency goes a long way starting the rebuild confidence in the program and management. It’s not their yet but the fact that they have already accomplished some of the goals that they laid out in the April 9th conference call gives them a foundation to work on.


Anonymous said...

interesting view of the 787 progress... man you get some narkers on airliners.net forum. neways it's good to read what people think. I cant wait to jump on a 787 some day!

wouwout said...

nah. this airplane is too new. it'll have lots of delays to come. That's the cost of innovation!