Friday, December 24, 2010

787 Certification Flight can start as early as January 3rd

Sources have told me that certification flight testing on the 787 can start again as early as January 3rd though it still depends on the results of the Boeing flight tests (testing the software fix) and the FAA's final approval to resume the certification program.

ZA004 made a successful return to test flight yesterday by flying a 1 hour and 35 minutes test flight around the Seattle/ Puget Sound region.

Here's the current flight test statistics that I've been keeping:

On Dec. 20th there was a line move and the 31st 787 (ZA117/LN31 for ANA) entered final assembly in Boeing's 40-26 final assembly building. LN 27 (ZA178 for Japan Airlines) went to the paint hangar. I have a fully updated spreadsheet below of the current status of the 787s around Everett:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Boeing announces the resumption of flight tests

As expected this came across today. My comments and other information will follow:

Boeing Resumes 787 Flight Testing

- Interim solution verified through extensive testing

- Schedule assessment expected to conclude in January

EVERETT, Wash., Dec. 23, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Boeing (NYSE: BA) will resume flight test activities on the 787 Dreamliner later today. The company has installed an interim version of updated power distribution system software and conducted a rigorous set of reviews to confirm the flight readiness of ZA004, the first of the six flight test airplanes that will return to flight.

"Initially, we will resume a series of Boeing tests that remain to be completed in the flight test program. That testing will be followed later by a resumption of certification testing," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program. Today's testing will include an intentional deployment of the Ram Air Turbine (RAT), which is a small turbine that is deployed when back-up power is required.

Boeing and Hamilton Sundstrand completed testing of the interim software updates earlier this week. Verification of the system included laboratory testing of standalone components, integration testing with other systems, flight simulator testing and ground-based testing on a flight test airplane.

In the last several weeks, the company continued ground testing as part of the certification program. Additional ground testing will be done by the company on the production version of the airplane to further verify performance of the changes being made.

"As we return to flight test and determine the pace of that activity, we remain focused on developing a new program schedule," Fancher added. "We expect to complete our assessment of the program schedule in January."

Flight testing of the 787 was suspended last month following an in-flight electrical incident on a test flight in Laredo, Texas.

A couple of key points:
1) Testing is being done on an interim software fix. This is not the final version that will be required on all production planes
2) Boeing tests - Boeing is conducting these test not the FAA
3) The first test involves the deployment and testing of the RAT - Did the RAT not work as expected on ZA002?
4) One 787 will return to flight test, the others?

Ok my take....Boeing is going to be testing an interim software fix; hardware fix, it seems, is done. The FAA is more concerned with the way the power distribution systems handled during the in flight emergency on ZA002. Now this software fix is going to run through different scenarios and test conditions to see how it reacts. Boeing is going to have to demonstrate to the FAA the power distribution software will react in way intended in the case of an in flight fire. Because this is an interim fix I expect that there will be changes made that will have to be tested in the systems integration and engineering lab before being flown on ZA004 which I assume will be the test bed for this software fix.

Until the FAA is 100% satisfied that this fix does not allow the recurrence of the problems that the crew experienced on the flight deck, Boeing will have to continue to make changes to the software and test it in the ground labs and in flight test before the FAA will allow certification testing to restart. Boeing tells me that they are having continued discussions with the FAA over the resumptions of certification test flights which I presume will include a discussion of the results of the Boeing flight tests and the software fixes that are being tested.

Boeing has told me a couple of tid bits.

1) All the flights that occurred on November 7th including the ferry flights will be logged as official 787 flights. This includes ZA002's flight. It should appear on the 787 flight test scorecard. It is already on my flight test tracker and I will update it for all flight that are carried out for today onwards.

2) The other 787s will be rejoining the flight test program in the days and weeks ahead. ZA004 will not be the only 787 flying in these Boeing tests.

3) An industry source has told me that Boeing plans to have the new delivery schedule ready around the week of January 17th though it is not a certain time frame. A lot will depend on how these test flights go as well as complete review of the work that the program has to complete on all the built 787s that are scattered all over Everett.

Lastly, Guy Norris has a post up on the Aviation Week site. In it he reveals that Boeing is getting the systems labs operational again to fully support the flight testing of the oftware fix. Guy also says that Boeing expects to see certification flight testing to resume sometime in January.

Read Guy's post:

Guy Norris: 787 Return to Flight

Resumption of 787 test take

Boeing is expected to announce the resumption of 787 test flights but Susanna Ray at Bloomberg is reporting that these are only company test flights and not FAA certification test flights. There is no information on when certification test flights with FAA personnel aboard will resume.

Boeing, in my opinion got FAA approval, to resume test flights with Boeing personnel in order to collect data on the fixes that needed to be made in light of the November 9th fire on ZA002. Boeing has to prove out the hardware and software changes in order to give the FAA satisfaction that there won't be a recurrence of the problems that lead to the fire and the resulting loss of power which necessitated the deployment of the RAT (Ram Air Turbine) to provide power to critical systems while the aircraft was landing in Laredo. Once Boeing has collected the data analyzed it and presented it, then the resumption of Certification test flights will hinge on if the FAA has comfort in Boeing's analysis.

Boeing expected to announce resumption of test flights.

UPDATE 2: Flightblogger says that ZA004 will fly today from Everett as part of the return to test flights.

UPDATE: Bloomberg is also reporting that Boeing will resume 787 test flights but they will only be company test flights only and not counted towards FAA certification purposes.

Various sources have confirmed that Boeing is finalizing plans to announce a resumption of test flights with this announcement possibly coming after the market close today, Dec. 23rd. Boeing is not expected to announce a new delivery schedule however and various industry sources have told me that this announcement could come sometime around the release of Boeing's 2010 earning release in late January. The return to test flights can resume as early as today.

While the resumption of test flights is a major step forward for the 787 it is still disconcerting that Boeing doesn't have a delivery schedule ready. This points to the other issues that have plagued the program, namely the amount of unfinished work that has to be completed on the assembled jets and the ones that have yet to be assembled. According to Dominic Gates this amounts to about 140,000 individual jobs spread across the aircraft that have been produced (24 airplanes). Some would take a few hours while others would take a few weeks. Boeing, I believe, is trying to get its arms around the scope of work that has to be completed, what it will take, how long it will take and the investment needed to finish these airplanes.

Looks like I only got half a present I wanted for Xmas...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

All I want for a 787 schedule

That's is probably want Boeing's 787 customer base is singing this holiday season. Yet Boeing doesn't seem any closer to issuing their revised schedule or say when test flights will resume. There does seem to be a lot of ground testing going on and Boeing is preparing ZA102 for its first flight though right now it is conducting extensive ground tests including starting it engines for the first time on Dec. 22nd. However that is little comfort with the airplanes still stuck on the ground and the certification test flights on hold.

There is a report that Boeing may have solved some of the electrical issues to the satisfaction of the FAA which may allow Boeing to resume test flights as early as this weekend, I believe this is doubtful as Boeing is basically shutdown from Dec. 24th through January 2nd for the Holidays. A source has told me that they were looking to resume test flights around Dec. 23-24th but now this is looking doubtful. Boeing has been in very frequent (daily) meeting with the FAA over the resumption of test flights and certification though. However it may not be too much of a stretch that Boeing has resolved issues to the FAA satisfaction. Boeing Japan President, Michael Denton, has said that Boeing is expected to announce a return to test flights soon though he didn't have an update for the delivery schedule.

The fact that Boeing maybe returning to test flights soon is good news the fact that they may still be weeks away from announcing when deliveries would start is troubling. It may indicate that the real issues are the unfinished work, supplier problems and on going engineering changes which won't be improved upon to support a near term delivery schedule.

The FAA is coming down hard on Boeing to such an extent that ETOPS certification out of the box may be in serious jeopardy according to Dominic Gates of the Seattle Times.

In an article that was published 5 days ago, Dominic described the amount of work that has to be done on the Dreamliners that are already assembled. His sources have told him that there about 140,000 incomplete items on all these airplanes that have yet to be done, either in Everett or in San Antonio where crews will put the 787s through the change incorporation program and prepare these airplanes for delivery. One 787 (one for Air India) has been on the Boeing flightline without the horizontal stabilizer indicating that Boeing is still dealing with the poor workmanship from Alenia.

Dominic Gates: Dreamliner's woes pile up

Boeing to boost 777 output 66 percent by 2013 amid 787 delays

Lastly, Flightblogger has published an extensive article on the 787 business case. In it he describes how the deep discounts that Boeing gave on the 787 has put Boeing under fiscal pressure to make a profit on this program. The discounts were on the order of around $65mm that was given to one large airline who placed a very large order. Boeing had calculated that the program would cost about $5bn and now estimates are for around $12bn - $18bn additional after factoring in cost overruns, compensation to customers, and additional resources needed to finish all the outstanding work.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Round Up of 787 News

Most of the 787 news centered on the review of the 787 one year after the first flight of ZA001 but Guy Norris did add on interesting tid bit at the end of his one year anniversary review. He says that ZA004's APU ground test has been cancelled and reason might be for a return to test flying. We'll see what transpires. Here's links for the 787 first flight anniversary articles.

Guy Norris: 787's first year of flight - a retrospective

ANA Discusses 787 Pain Threshold

Flightblogger: December 12, 2010: Dreamliner at One

Aubrey Cohen: One year after first flight, Boeing 787 remains clouded

Monday, December 13, 2010

One Year In....The 787 year in review.

For the last 12 months I've been giving a monthly update on the 787 flight test progress with the exception of last month. With the one year anniversary of ZA001's first flight and the suspension of 787 flight activities, it seems an appropriate time to review the 787 program and try and take a look ahead to see what awaits the 787. It has been a year of triumphs and heartache within the program and the current forecast for the program is, at best, overcast.

787 - December 15, 2009 to December 14, 2010

December 15, 2009 was a day that Boeing hoped that see the start of putting the troubles of the 787 program in the rear view mirror. It was a day that cloudy and rainy (typical Pacific Northwest weather). The first 787, ZA001, made an on time takeoff and flew for a little over 3 hours. ZA002 flew one week later in a flight that was shortened by issues with the main landing gear door and the nose gear. Nevertheless these initial flights started Boeing on the path of initial airworthiness flight trials. The 787 achieved IAT in mid January 2010 which allowed Boeing to conduct test with the other test flight airplanes as well as with engineers on board. This allowed for the expansion of the787 flight test envelope which would include stability and control testings, flutter testing and functionality and reliability testing of the airplane.

Boeing added airplanes to the test flight fleet with ZA004 flying in late February, 2010 and ZA003 flying in mid March 2010. The near term goal of the program was to achieve Type Inspection Authorization for the 787. This is the point that would formally kick off the certification program for the 787. This point of the program was expected to be achieved by mid to late February, 2010 but was not granted until April 20, 2010. This was a major indicator that the program may suffer delays to the delivery schedule yet again. During this period Boeing had successfully test the 787 wing to the ultimate load limit test on ZY997, the static test airframe. This was a major certification test point that Boeing needed to accomplish given the issues that Boeing had found almost a year earlier with the side of body join and the weakness that was discovered.

Boeing continued testing throughout the spring and summer of 2010. They seemingly hit a very good flight test pace during late May/early June only to see the number of flight and flight hours flown to drop off a month later and then recover later in the summer. Progress was made in September through the early part of November with significant flight hours being posted especially with the GEnx powered 787s that had finally joined the flight test program. However there were set back to flight testing (and production) due to the time needed to inspect the horizontal stabilizers on all 787s due to Alenia's workmanship issues. Boeing needed to spend precious time and resources to inspect and conduct any repairs on the aircraft that were built and/or flying. Still despite the Alenia debacle, Boeing was still on track to deliver the 787 by end of 2010 until an early August Trent 1000 engine test in Derby, UK took a bad turn and the engine had an uncontained failure of it intermediate pressure turbine.

This was a major setback for Rolls and Boeing as it threw the entire schedule into doubt. Indeed, the engine that failed was due to be installed on ZA102 (LN 9) which was to be used for flight tests of production standard aircraft. Boeing had to delay delivery to mid February because of the unavailability of an engine for ZA102 within the needed time frame to start flight tests on this aircraft.

Still Boeing said they were confident in Rolls Royce's hardware and software fixes to prevent a recurrence of the failure and Boeing continued with flight and ground testing of the 787 through early fall until Nov. 9th.

ZA002 was flying a long duration test flight with FAA personnel aboard testing the nitrogen generating system (part of the fuel inerting system) and was on final approach to an airport in Laredo Texas when a fire erupted in the lower electronics bay near the left wing. The fire was out after about 30 seconds but the power panel where the fire originated was destroyed and the aircraft had experienced power distribution problems while in the process of landing. An emergency was declared (apparently after landing) and the crew and test personnel evacuated the aircraft using the emergency slides.

The problems that lead to the fire in the P100 power distribution panel are now well known but now at this point, one year after the first 787 flew the 787 schedule is in shambles. The aviation world is waiting for Boeing's revised schedule. The 787 has had more than its fair share of problems and delays since it was launched in 2004 and there's nothing to say that there won't be any more issues when Boeing and the FAA resumes flight testing.

Boeing is still encountering supplier and production issues and probably will continue to see sporadic halts to part deliveries into Everett. Clearly there is still plenty of issues that need to be cleaned up so that Boeing can start deliveries of the 787 and ramp up production. However, the aviation world is now waking up to the fact in light of problems in various aircraft programs (A380, 787, A400M, F-35, and the A350) that the old model that aircraft manufacturers used to develop, design, test and produce high technology aircraft is out the door. Robert Wall of Aviation Week summed it nicely in a blog post a week ago: "Skeptics quip that Airbus is effectively fighting the last war, and that the only thing it is assuring is that it will invent a whole new series of missteps. If that turns out to be true, then perhaps it is time to put to bed the idea of accelerating development cycles on major products and just learn to live with the fact that the gestation period for a major civil aircraft program is eight years or longer."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Guy Norris: Electrical contactors in P100 is possible source where fire started

Guy Norris got more information on the possible ignition source of the fire in the P100 panel on board ZA002. An electrical contactor which helps distribute power from the engines. There are two of these contactors. One was discovered melted while the other suffered extensive damage.

Another bit of news is that the insulation between the fuselage and the P100 power panel was charred and had been effective in protecting the composite skin of the fuselage. This has been a point of debate in some circles and now apparently the insulation did protect the fuselage as it was meant to do. This should give Boeing and the FAA some comfort.

You can read Guy's post:

Guy Norris: Mid-2011 delivery for delayed 787?

French Newspaper: 787 to be delivered late June to early July

The French newspaper, Les Echos is reporting that Air France execs have been told that Boeing is now expecting to deliver the first 787s in the late June to early July time frame. I believe that Boeing can deliver the 787 around mid May.

If true this would be a four and a half month delay. The newspaper reports that fixes should be done by the end of December with test flights resuming in January. This all, of course, is dependent on FAA approval of the required fixes. Click here for the Les Echos article. The translation is below (by Google Translate):

If no date is yet officially adopted, the first deliveries of Boeing 787 could ultimately involve next summer - perhaps late June or early July. Or with a little over three months late on the last date. This was suggested yesterday some Boeing executives to their counterparts in Air France, alongside the delivery of a B777 to the French company.

For now, the six copies of the 787 tests are still grounded, a month after a fire in a cabinet during a test flight, which resulted in the interruption certification program. But Boeing engineers believe they have identified the source of the problem and possible solutions to them.

The fire was caused by the presence of particles in the closet - and not a forgotten tool as has been mentioned. The short circuit would result in a blackout then the electricity network, despite the security software. Boeing and its partners to the electrical system, Hamilton Sunstrand and Zodiac, have therefore set about rewriting the computer program key.

The aim would be to complete corrections by the end of the year, to resume test flights in January, and lead to certification in June. However, the manufacturer must obtain clearance from the FAA, U.S. Civil Aviation, before resuming its flight tests. If all goes as planned, the consequences of this seventh postponement since the launch of the program would thus without serious consequences on the delivery schedule.

Boeing has 26 Dreamliners on hold on its site in Everett, the colors of All Nippon, Air India and Japan Airlines, which it only needs the engine still installed at the last moment, and the buffer FAA to be delivered. In addition, a second assembly line 787 should start in the summer of 2011 in Charleston, to help make up for lost time.

There is also an article in the Economic Times referencing the same Les Echos article:

Economic Times: Boeing Dreamliner delivery delay to July: Report

Monday, December 6, 2010

Boeing initiates 3 week 787 production halt; production to resume on Dec. 23rd.

Flightblogger broke news this morning that Boeing has initiated a 3 week halt to part deliveries into Everett. The halt started a week ago when LN 31 (ZA117) did not load into the final assembly tool on Dec. 1st as expected. According to my sources, this airplane is now expected to start final assembly on Dec. 23rd...about two and a half weeks from now. Parts for this airplane have arrived though Boeing is halting parts so that they can minimize "adverse effects" to the final assembly line. It's unknown what the adverse effects may be.

This news comes on top of Spirit Aerosystems announcing that they were temporarily halting production of the 787 forward fuselage sections and reassigning those workers to help with 737 overtime production. Spirit currently has 50 forward fuselage sections either delivered or in the production process in Wichita. It is probably unrelated to the current production halt as Boeing is telling it's suppliers to continue their production and delivery schedules. Flightblogger reported that the main fuselage section for ZA117 has not arrived into Everett leading me to believe that Boeing Charleston might be the source of the current production delay.

This is the 4th production halt this year as Boeing is still attempting to ramp up production of the 787. This only adds to the problems the program is facing in the midst of the power panel fire on ZA002 and the subsequent need to initiate re-design of hardware and software in the 787. It is still unknown when the 787 will return to test flight though I think it'll happen between the first and second week of January.

You can read Flightblogger's post:

Flightblogger: Breaking: Boeing halts 787 part deliveries for another three weeks