Wednesday, October 26, 2011

787 officially starts earning revenue; Boeing drops 787/747 delivery forecast for 2011...again

787 Entry into Service

The 787 Dreamliner officially entered into airline revenue service with ANA flight 7871 flying from Narita, Tokyo to Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok International Airport. The start of revenue service allows the opportunity to hear about the passenger experience from those not connected to the airline or to the manufacturer. Initial passenger reaction has been very positive especially with the dimmable windows as well as the noise level of the aircraft. One of Boeing's aims was to greatly improve the passenger experience while on board the airplane and it seems that they have accomplished just that. Overall this is a very promising start the the 787s service life though it's only one flight. Boeing has prepared for this day over the course of 7 years and with the delays have aimed to mature many of the systems that are on the 787.

Orders and Deliveries

the last month has been a mixed bag for Boeing in terms of orders and deliveries for Boeing. They did deliver the first two 787s to ANA and has supported the airline's efforts to put the airplane into service but the news from the order's front does dampen some of the enthusiasm stemming from the start of deliveries. China Eastern Airlines has cancelled their order for 24 787s and has decided to take 45 737s. Boeing has since said that they expect more cancellations though they would give a number. One of those might be a partial cancellation by Air India. The financially troubled airline which is run by government bureaucrats instead of airline executives, has concluded that they ordered too many aircraft when they placed a huge widebody order with Boeing in 2005. They want to cut the 787 order by more than half to 12 airplanes from the original 27 that they have on order. Presumably Boeing and Air India have entered into discussions about the 787 order but currently Boeing has several 787 already built and undergoing change incorporation. Two of them also have engines hung.

ANA did announce that they expect to have 7 Dreamliner's delivered to them by the end of the year (thanks to Flightblogger for Tweeting that particular bit of news). This bit of news is very interesting given Boeing's announcement this morning that they will deliver 15-20 787s and 747-8 this year. The reason for the reduction in estimated deliveries is due to the amount of time needed for change incorporation. During the earnings conference call, Boeing estimated that about 2/3 of this range will be 747-8 deliveries and the rest 787-8. This two pieces of information indicates that Boeing will probably deliver 5-8 787 (with 8 being the more likely number) and 10-12 747-8. Of the 8 787s delivered, I believe there will be 7 going to ANA and one GEnx aircraft possibly to Air India. Given the dynamics of the Air India situation and the pace of re-work on the $18bn of 787 inventory sitting at Everett, the number delivered will be very fluid.

I have received information that as of now Boeing is not planning any 787 deliveries for November though that may change. A reasonable measure of how close a 787 is to being delivered is when the aircraft has been fitted with its engines. Currently only a handful of 787s have their engines attached including two that were flown to Boeing's facility at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. There are probably three other airplanes that I know of that have engines attached (LN 31, LN 35 and possibly LN 38). There are 5 other airplanes including 3 for ANA that are in the Everett Modification Center (EMC or otherwise known as ATS) that are undergoing re-work and could quite possibly have their engines on. These are later build airplanes (LN 40, LN 41, and LN 42) which don't require much re-work to be ready for service. It is quite possible that these airplanes would be ready for delivery in late November to December. Other airplanes that would be ready for delivery include LN 7 and LN 9 which was used for Boeing's ETOPs and F&R testing.

Speaking of re-work, Boeing is reporting improved build of parts that are flowing into Everett and they are projecting that the production system will reach a point where most if not all change incorporation will not be needed by airplane 60.

Production and Testing

First the testing update. Boeing reported that the testing program on the GEnx-1B powered 787 is well into the F&R/ETOPs phase and overall they are 95% complete with testing of this model. ZA006 is the only aircraft that is dedicated to F&R/ETOPS testing as Boeing is not using a production standard aircraft for this testing (they probably convinced the FAA that it is not necessary to use a production standard aircraft for some reason).

Additionally, ZA004 which has been conducting flight tests with the Trent 1000 package "B" engines has probably wrapped up most of the flight testing (it has not flown since Oct. 19) though I don't know if they have to do ETOPS/F&R testing using the modified engines or not. Boeing is planning to deliver the first 787 equipped with the package "B" Trent 1000 sometime in December as it will be these 787s that ANA will start using on long haul international flights.

Now on to production. Now that Boeing has most of the 787-8 flight testing and development out of the way, they can proceed with focusing on reducing inventory ($18bn now) and ramping up assembly. Certainly having the North Charleston line open will help but right now many of the techs there are building LN 46 very slowly as they are in the process of learning their job. However, Boeing needs to clear the 40 some odd 787s that are listed as work in process (WIP). 38-39 are at Everett while two more are at San Antonio. Change incorporation is going slowly especially with the early build aircraft that I anticipate that most of the WIP aircraft won't be cleared until late next year. However Boeing did announce that they will be increasing the 787 production rate to 2.5/month starting this week (I'm projecting this Sunday) starting with LN 50 which is for Ethiopian Airlines. It seems that Boeing is planning for another rate increase very soon after going to 2.5 as they are reporting that the supplier base is positioned for further rate hikes very soon though timing and rate of these increases is still a matter of speculation. I'm thinking that Boeing can increase the rate to 3 or 3.5 by February. Boeing is still reiterating their position that they will be able to produce 10 787/month by the end of 2013. After that rate has stabilized over a course of 1 to 2 years Boeing sees that 787 unit revenue will exceed unit cost by around 2014-2015. The program won't be profitable after about 10 years of production. They have now set their accounting block for the 787 program at 1,100 units (they are spreading all development costs across 1,100 airplanes). Of course this is all predicated on Boeing reaching the 10/month goal by the end of 2013.

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