Monday, December 31, 2012

787 Looking Back and Looking Forward: Part 1, 2012 Year in Review

2012 787 Year in Review

2012 was a year highs and lows for the 787 program.  While Boeing executed very well on it plan to increase production and work through the back log of airplanes sitting around Everett waiting to be modified and delivered, the program was bedeviled by teething problems while in customer service. 

The Bad
These problems were magnified by the media spotlight that this airplane had to contend with since 2007.  Every new squawk that appeared was magnified by the media despite the benign nature of most of these issues.  The most notable was the diversion of a scheduled United 787 flight from Houston to Newark, NJ.  The aircraft landed in New Orleans without incident as the pilot noticed irregular indications on the cockpit displays related to the electrical system.  United stated that the issue was traced to a starter generator supplied by Hamilton Sundstrand.

The Good
Despite all this many customers reported that they were very happy with the performance of the aircraft.  Air India was able to turn a money losing route (Delhi to Frankfurt) into a profitable one. ANA itself reported that the aircraft was more fuel efficient than they had expected.  As Boeing works out the excess weight of the aircraft in subsequent block numbers and GE & Rolls Royce brings their respective engines closer to promised fuel burn specs the 787-8 will only get better.

During 2012 Boeing had delivered 46 787s to 8 different customers.  7 of these customers received their first 787s this year.  The airlines that Boeing delivered these aircraft to represented every continent on the world except Antarctica (still waiting for Penguin Air to order, I guess).  Of the 46 airplanes delivered, 31 airplanes had to under go some amount of change incorporation through the Everett Modification Center while 15 were delivered straight from the the final assembly lines at Everett and Charleston. Over all Boeing has delivered 49 787s since deliveries began in September 2011.

I was expecting Boeing to deliver 50 787s this year and they fell short of this number quite narrowly by 4 airframes.  This is attributable to the failure of the Chinese and Air India to take delivery of 787s that are ready for service.

On the 787-9 development front, Boeing, at last report, had completed over 90% of the detailed engineering design work for this variant of the aircraft (this was accomplished back in September, 2012) and work started on the first major fuselage assemblies in the last couple of months.  Boeing is reporting that the aircraft is meeting weight expectations and does expect that they will deliver and aircraft that will come in well under the contractual weight made to customers.

Boeing has seemed to have executed well on its plan for 2012.  They had estimated that they would deliver between 35 and 43 787s in the year and they exceeded that delivery plan. 2013 will be a crucial year in terms of the production and delivery ramp up as well as the start of testing on Boeing newest 787 variant. However there are looming problems that can derail those plans in a significant way. These will be explored in the 787 2013 year look ahead.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Boeing delivers 6 787s in one day, exceed their 2012 high end estimate

Boeing gave a Christmas gift (an early one at that) to its shareholders by delivering 6 787s to 6 current operators of the aircraft.  Boeing delviered one each to ANA, Air India, Japan Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Qatar Airways and United Airlines. 

So far only one has flown away (Air India from Charleston) but the other 5 should leave over the next couple of days.  The following aircraft were delivered today:

ANA - ZA510 (LN 59, JA817A)
Air India - ZA239 (LN 60, VT-ANK)
Japan Airlines - ZA183 (LN 84, JA829J)
LOT Polish Airlines - ZA271 (LN 78, SP-LRB)
Qatar Airways - ZA462 (LN 62, A7-BCK)
United Airlines - ZA287 (LN 52, N27903)

To date Boeing has delivered 46 787s overall, 43 in 2012 and 8 in December, 2012.  They may not be done as there is a possiblity they can deliver 1 or 2 more this month but more test flights would have to carried out by both Boeing and customer pilots of Air India would have to be prepared to accept one or even two more 787s that are waiting for them in Charleston.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

787 production update

As we approach the Holiday week, Boeing will be going into a slow down mode as is the custom around this time of the year.  There have been moves of late which I'll highlight here.

Boeing has moved out ZA274 (LN 88, SP-LRE) for LOT and ZA184 (LN 89, JA830J) for Japan Airlines.  They moved ZA513 (LN97, JA819A) for ANA into the body-wing join in 40-24 to start final assembly.  This is the last aircraft that will start final assembly in 2012. I expect it to be delivered sometime around middle to late February 2013.

Boeing also moved ZA232 (LN 28, VT-ANC) to the EMC to begin the change incorporation process for this airframe prior to delivery to Air India sometime next year.

I have also updated the tables to reflect the firing order for airplanes 116 to 130. The highlight of this list is ZB001 (LN126) which is the first 787-9 to go into final assembly.

There are a couple of things that caught my attention when I saw the list.  Boeing is assembling this aircraft on the 40-24 surge line and not on the main assembly line in 40-26.  Second, Boeing has diverted the final assembly of the 787-8s from 40-24 and is concentrating the production of customer aircraft in 40-26 and 88-03 in Charleston.  This is obviously in case they run into issues during final assembly of the first 787-9 that there aren't any bottlenecks in 787-8 production.  They are leaving themselves enough margin, it seems, to address issues with assembling the 787-9.  There will be a 3 airframe margin in front of the ZB001 and at least a 4 frame margin behind the aircraft as it makes it way through the final assembly stations in 40-24.

I don't have any information on follow on 787-9 frames just as yet but Boeing is believed to be planning for a 3 aircraft test fleet for the 787-9 with the test program lasting about 6 months.  I roughly estimate that ZB001 should enter the final assembly building around June 13, 2013.  Boeing has said the aircraft will start final assembly during the summer.  Since this is a brand new variant, I am assuming at least 6 weeks for final assembly and another 6 weeks for ground testing before first flight.  This would mean that this airplane can be flying around the middle of September, 2013.

On the firing order nothing stands out though we do get to see the first 787 for JetStar going through final assembly as well as the first 2 787s for Royal Brunei Airlines.  The Royal Brunei Order is listed as unidentified on Boeing's Order and Delivery website but they did order  787-8s with Trent-100 engines.  The airlines says that they are expecting to take delivery of the 1st 787 in early September 2013. This list as it stands now would cover deliveries through early September, 2013.

Friday, December 14, 2012

787 testing picking up as deliveries continue

787 flight activity picked up this week as the weather cleared long enough for Boeing to send up another 787 on its 1st flight.  Yesterday There were 4 787 flights including the B-1 flight for ZA285 (LN 45, N27901) for United Airlines.  There was supposed to be another test flight of ZA238 (LN 54, VT-ANJ but it didn't occur.

As Boeing aggressively ramps up flight tests this month deliveries are also starting to take shape. This evening, Boeing delivered United's 4th 787 (ZA289, LN 55, N45905).  According to a press report by Bloomberg, Qatar is expecting to take delivery of two 787s on Dec.19th. I also expect Boeing to further deliveries of 787s to ANA (2), United (1)and JAL (1).  Wild card deliveries can be made to Air India (2) and possibly China Southern (that airplane still has to make its 2nd test flight).

Now all this continues despite the recent spat of glitches that the 787 has experienced.  The most notable one is the issue with the starter generator supplied by Hamilton Sundstrand.  A second 787, ZA460 (LN 57, A7-BCA) experienced the fault and landed while being delivered to Doha from Victorville.  The generator is being swapped out and the aircraft should enter service soon but the issue is troubling.  Akbar (U-Turn Al) Al-Baker again vociferously complained about the teething problems of the 787 to the media (after the first revenue flight of Qatar's 787 to London) but Qatar is still planning to take delivery of 2 787 next week.  Still Boeing along with Hamilton Sundstrand and the FAA are looking into the issues.  Jon Ostrower of the Wall Street Journal reported that 2 other 787s are other delivered 787 that belongs to United and an undelivered 787 for Qatar (one of the two that are to be delivered next week). The FAA said the issue doesn't appear to be safety of flight issue and aside for Air India reporting unspecified "electrical problems" no other 787 customers have come forth with electrical probles as of late.  Dominic Gates of the Seattle Times also has an article on the 787 electrical issue.

On the production front, expect things to slow down as Boeing enters its traditional Holiday break.  One aircraft (ZA513, LN 97, JA819A) for ANA will be loaded into the final assembly line and that will be the last until after New Year.

As of today, Boeing has delviered a total of 40 787 to 8 customers worldwide.  They've delivered 37 in 2012 and have to potential to deliver anywhere from 6 to 8 more airplanes this month.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Charleston still building 787s but not rolling them out

With Boeing's North Charleston plant building a 787 once every month, there is an expectation that we would be seeing more airplanes on the ramp at Charleston.  However it has been more than a month since Boeing rolled out an airplane from building 88-03.

The planes being worked on (currently) at this plant are earmarked for Air India and two of the three Chinese customers (Hainan and China Southern).  Given the issues surrounding these customers, it is not anticipated that deliveries will be made anytime soon or if they are delivered, it would be a glacially slow pace.  787 assembly at Charleston is completed in four position, just like the 787 line in Everett. It is my belief that Boeing is going to take its time rolling these airplanes out of the Charleston factory and will use the extra positions within the assembly hall to store a couple of airplanes. There are 8 flightline spots at Charleston so there isn't a lack of room.  The only reason to keep them inside to to ensure all assembly tasks are completed and to protect the airplanes from the elements.

I've listed LN 76 as stored but its location is inside building 88-03 in Charleston.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Projected 787 Delivery Dates for December; AMR in a position to finalize their 787-9 order?

With many of the 787s that are in pre-delivery having gone through their first (B-1) flights. I am going to take a moment and speculate on delivery dates for these airplanes.  These are my own assumptions assuming that these aircraft will have to fly the minimal number of acceptance flights.  For now I'm assuming that these planes will deliver between 21 and 24 days after each B-1 flight though there are exceptions (as in Air India, Chinese carriers, and LOT).  This also assumes that there aren't any issues that would need to be corrected and re-tested in subsequent test flights prior to delivery.

Here's my projected delivery dates for this month:

ZA289 (LN 55, N45905) United Airlines - 12/12/12 - 12/15/12
ZA462 (LN 62, A7-BCK) Qatar Airways - 12/15/12 - 12/18/12
ZA464 (LN 82, A7-BCC) Qatar Airways - 12/24/12 - 12/27/12
ZA510 (LN 59, JA817A) ANA - 12/26/12 - 12/29/12
ZA512 (LN 83, JA818A) ANA - 12/27/12 - 12/30/12
ZA287 (LN 52, N27903) United Airlines - 12/28/12 - 12/31/12
ZA183 (LN 84, JA829J) JAL - 12/28/12 - 12/31/12

Again this is my own speculation but it's based on previous and recent deliveries of the 787.  These dates are always in flux and can change easily so I trust the reader will not hold me responsible if all the actual delivery dates turn out to be something totally different. 

Lastly, these numbers could change as Boeing can deliver 787s to Air India (2), China Southern (1) and even LOT Polish (1).  Boeing is making a huge effort to try and delivery these aircraft within the next 24 days and the way we can accurately tell is the flight activity of each of these airplanes over the next 2-3 weeks.

Lastly, the pilots union at American Airlines has ratified the new labor agreement with AMR today. This could be significant for 787-9 order that AA intends to finalize with Boeing as the order is dependent on AMR agreeing to a new contract with their pilots.  Now this was all before AMR entered Chapter 11 so the bankruptcy judge and AMR's creditors may have something to say about this order and whether it can proceed.  Additionally, a report emerged this evening that US Airways had submitted a bid for American in November.  What effect an AMR-US Airways merger would have on the MoU for the 42 787-9 American intends to finalize is unclear though US Airways does have an outstanding order for 18 A350-800 and 4 A350-900 by Airbus.  Boeing can deliver the 787-9 to American starting in 2014 (theoretically) which is much earlier than US Airways can get either variant of the A350 that they have ordered.  Also a combined company may be opened to operating a mixed Boeing-Airbus fleet as with Delta/Northwest and United/Continental.  A US Airways/American tie up would retain the American name.

Boeing conducts 6 new 787 first flights in one week.

UPDATE (6:38PM): Looks like Boeing has delivered LAN's 3rd 787 today.  Flightware shows a 787 delivery flight leaving Everett at 5:10PM local time for Santiago, Chile.

Boeing is quickening the pace of flying production 787s on their first flight.  Starting on Dec. 1, Boeing has sent up 6 different 787s for their first flight, otherwise known as the B-1 flight.  It appears that Boeing is aggressively trying to ramp up deliveries of these airplanes before the end of the year.  In addition to these 6 airplanes making their first flight, several others have had follow on test flights either by Boeing or customer pilots on several other 787s.

The planes that flew were as follows:

ZA271 (LN 78, SP-LRB) for LOT Polish Airlines

ZA464 (LN 82, A7-BCC) for Qatar Airways

ZA510 (LN 59, JA817J) for ANA

ZA512 (LN 83, JA818A) for ANA

ZA287 (LN 52, N27903) for United Airlines
ZA183 (LN 84, JA829J) for Japan Airlines

Obviously not all of these will be delivered this month, most notably ZA271 but I do still believe Boeing can deliver 8 787s this month possibly going to 10 if Air India sorts out its financial mess.

Given this pace, I can see Boeing delivering a couple airplanes next week but the bulk of deliveries should come around the week of December 17th.  The plan would be for Boeing to fly more test flights next week in preparation for delivery the following week (week of Dec. 17th). Boeing will be mostly closed during the week of Christmas but not fully shut down so we can certainly still see a couple of deliveries during the week of Dec. 24th depending on customer availability and needs.

I have made changes to the notes of some of the airplanes in the table.  Notably I am tracking the number of tests flights that each airplane takes during pre-delivery. After delivery I note which order it was delivered to that particular customer (i.e. ANA #1 meaning the first airplane delivered to ANA, etc.).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

787 flight activity picking up. Is Boeing preparing to give a big Xmas present?

Boeing may be getting set to give AvGeeks and their shareholders a big Xmas gift in the form of several 787 deliveries before the end of the year.

There has a been a noticeable uptick in 787 flight activity both at Everett and Charleston since the first of the month. In the first four days of December, Boeing has conducted 3 B-1 flights on ZA271 (LN 78, SP-LRB), ZA464 (LN 82, A7-BCC) and ZA510 (LN 59, JA817A).  These three aircraft are for LOT Polish Airlines, Qatar Airways and ANA respectively. 

In addition to these first flights, Boeing has conducted a few follow on test flights of other 787s including two in Charleston.  Both ZA239 (LN 60, VT-ANK) and ZA240 (LN 65, VT-ANL) have flown out of Charleston in recent days. These aircraft were to have been delivered earlier in the fall but on going financing issues at Air India have prevented the carrier from taking delivery.  The fact that these two aircraft have flown on back-to-back days may raise the possibility that Air India has some how arranged the bridge financing needed to take delivery but this speculation is tempered by Air India complaining that their 787s are experiencing "electrical issues" and will not take anymore deliveries of 78s until these "issues" are corrected with a permanent fix.  Interestingly, none of the other 7 Dreamliner customers have reported (at least publicly) of any electrical issues with airplanes with the exception of yesterday's problem with United.

There are currently 7 787s that are in flight tests with another 6 that are making preparations for their B-1 flights.  Of the 6 preparing for 1st flight, I believe that 4 will eventually fly this month and fly fairly soon. There are 3 aircraft (all for Air India) that are ready for delivery but again it depends on the issues at Air India. Thus Boeing has the potential to deliver 14 though we know that they won't deliver that many.  For one thing Boeing hasn't conducted very many post B-1 test flights on these airplanes and some of the customers themselves may not be ready to take delivery by the end of the month.  Here's whom I believe will be able to take delivery this month:

ANA (2), Qatar Airways (2), United Airlines (2), LAN (1), Japan Airlines (1), Air India (2, maybe).

This is 8 (possibly going to 10) that can be delivered by the end of the month.  Since Boeing has taken the majority of these frames on a B-1 flight very early in the month, it leaves them enough time, prior to Boeing's Christmas break, to conduct further test flights and prepare the aircraft for delivery.

United had an incident with their third (and most recently delivered) 787.  This aircraft is N26902 which was delivered on Nov. 20th.  Thankfully, there wasn't any evidence fire or electrical arcing in the aft electrical bay of the 787 that made the emergency landing at New Orleans but preliminary reports say that one of the 6 starter generators on the aircraft failed.  The suspect part is being replaced and will be tested before the aircraft is placed back into service very soon. I believe the generators are made by Hamilton Sundstrand.