Monday, March 23, 2009

Mt Redoubt blows its top: possible implications for 787 assembly?

RELATED UPDATE: Boeing told me that they're monitoring the sitation on Mt. Redoubt but don't expect any disruptions to their operations.

UNRELATED UPDATE: Dreamliner 1 might be making an appearance on the Boeing Everett flight line by around Wednesday or Thursday (March 25/26) of this week.

As some of you know, Alaska's Mt. Redoubt, a volcano about a 100 miles away from Anchorage, Alaska, erupted on Sunday. Geophysicists have said that these eruptions can continue for weeks or months.

Now what does that have to do with the assembly of the 787. Plenty it turns out. Boeing dispatches the 747 Dreamlifter or LCF to Nagoya to pick up the center wing box and mid fuselage sections that are then transported to Charleston, SC for integration with other parts flown in from Italy. These parts, when assembled form the 787 main fuselage. The LCFs also fly the wing boxes (or wings) for the 787 from Nagoya to Everett for final assembly.

Because of these eruptions, Mt Redoubt is throwing up plenty of ash and dust into the atmosphere. This ash and dust, when sucked into the engines of commercial aircraft, can flame out the engines which has happened with a 747 flying through a previous eruption many years ago (fortunately the pilots were able to restart engines before the plane would have crashed). This eruption can and will disrupt air traffic flying into and out of Anchorage, AK. When the LCFs are flying with these heavy sections and wings on their way to the US, they have to have a refueling stop in Anchorage. If Anchorage is shut down or if the dust and ash cloud prevents commercial aircraft from operating near Anchorage (which is on major commercial routes), then the LCF flights can be delayed or perhaps stopped from traveling from Japan to the US.

Note that when the LCFs are empty, they can fly a more southerly route and don't need a refueling stop on its way to Japan from the US. We just have to wait and see how this could effect Boeing in the near term as they attempt to increase 787 production.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I guess commercial planes are not equipt to be refueled in the air by a Boeing Tanker??

This may be new application in the event of future volcanoes!

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a different route...as circuitous as it may be, with more refueling, that would enable the deliveries to be made despite interfering circumstances..

Uresh said...

Nope, nothing that could land and refuel a fully loaded LCF heading to the States in that area. This is going to be a problem for all the commercial aircraft that fly through that area (and that's a lot of 747, A340s, A330s, 777, 767s, not to mention the smaller ones. That's a major trans-Pacific route.

Anonymous said...

It may have to fly in an altogether different direction and make a lengthy but successful trip.

Even if it flies around the world to get there...

Is that a possibility.

I do not know what the commercial planes will do...will flights be cancelled?

ikramerica said...

They should be able to stop in Hawaii instead, and then in VCV if needed. It's just more expensive. But it's doable. It's shorter than going the other way around the globe. NGO-HNL should be well within the eastbound range of the aircraft, and HNL has a 12,000 ft runway.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the just use Fairbanks instead?

Uresh said...

It all depends on how the ash and dust is moving with the prevailing winds as well as the need for thenecessary facilities like runaway length, fueling equipement etc.

muck said...

FAI has a 6,500 foot runway and can accommodate a regular 747. During the Redoubt eruptions of 1989-1990 Fairbanks was not impacted.