Now that Boeing has put to bed a very successful 2012 which includes regaining the title as the top commercial aircraft producer (thanks in part to the 787 deliveries that exceeded forecast), what is in store for the Dreamliner program in 2013?
There are several milestones for the 787 program coming up in the year. Among those are:
Assembly and 1st flight of the first 787-9. Assembly should start around early June and I anticipate that aircraft will be out about 1 month later to begin gauntlet testing in the run up for first flight in late summer or early fall. I expect Boeing to have 3 airplanes flying the certification testing and will be refurbished and delivered to customers after the planned 6 month test flight program is concluded. Boeing is still aiming for first delivery to Air New Zealand in mid 2014.
Launch of the 787-10 variant with significant orders from major Boeing customers which may include British Airways, Qatar Airways and others.
Production and Delivery
Boeing had executed extremely well on its plan to increase 787 production from 1.5/month to 5/month at the end of the year. Boeing's plan for production in 2013 was laid out in a conference call to investors. The plan is for Boeing to maintain the current 5/month rate through the middle of 2013 (end of June, perhaps) at which point they will break rate and go to 7/month and finally break rate again in late 2013 to the final 10/month rate.
How many can Boeing build in 2013 and how many they can deliver are two different numbers. There is a lag between the break in rate and when the first aircraft assembled at the new rate is delivered. Thus it is a couple of months before the increase in production rate translates to an increase in the delivery rate.
Thus for the production rate Boeing would see a build rate of 30 787s for the first 6 months of 2013 (5/month for 6 months), followed by a build rate of 35 787s for the following 5 months (7/month for 5 months). Followed by a build rate in December of 10/month. Therefore, this total indicates that Boeing is capable of assembling a total of 75 787s during 2013.
I am going to attempt to quantify Boeing deliveries for 2013 but I have to make certain assumptions:
1) Boeing will produce at a rate of 5/month through June, 2013 then break to 7/month starting in July, 2013 and maintain that through November 2013. In December 2013 Boeing will move to 10/month. This is based on currently available information.
2) I'm assuming that there would be 9 week lag between the break from 5/month to 7/month, therefore the first 787 to deliver at 7/month would be in September, 2013. Even though there is a break in production rate in December to 10/month this rate won't translate to a 10/month delivery rate until 2014.
3) The numbers don't account for production of 787-9s for testing purposes. I am only looking at deliveries of 787s to customers in 2013.
4) As a point of reference, the first 787 for Royal Brunei Airlines is expected to be delivered around September 1, 2013 according to the airline. I am assuming that September will be the first month of 7 Dreamliner deliveries from the final assembly lines.
5) Since I don't have the firing order for L/N 131 and beyond I am assuming the following deliver rates for the remainder: 4 aircraft in September and 7 each in the last three months of 2013. This is a total of 25. L/N 128 to L/N 130 will assumed to be delivered in September as well for a total of 7 aircraft delivered in that month.
6) Boeing will deliver 12 787s that will undergo change incorporation but this number may grow to 15. As of January 1, 2013, Boeing has 26 787s that are under going or will under go change incorporation in preparation for delivery to customers. This includes the last three test 787-8 (L/N 4 to L/N 6 with the last one already well into the change incorporation cycle.
7) I am assuming that all 787s earmarked for the Chinese carriers thus far will be delivered in 2013 (deliveries to start in March). I am also assuming that L/N 6 and L/N 17 will deliver but the customers are unknown at this time. L/N 17 was originally earmarked for Royal Air Maroc but will be delivered to another 787 customer instead.
Given these assumption let's break up the deliveries between aircraft coming straight off the final assembly line and those that still require re-work through the Everett Modification Center or in San Antonio.
I am projecting that Boeing can deliver 76 787s from all three final assembly lines during 2013. As a point of reference, the first 787 for Royal Brunei Airlines should enter final assembly around late July and deliver about 2 months later in very early September. I am projecting that from September to December that the delivery rate will be 7/month.
For the rework airplanes, I am projecting 12 787s that are going through the EMC and San Antonio (ZA006) will be delivered in 2013 but Boeing may be able to squeeze 3 more (ZA230, ZA231, and ZA115) if the modification process becomes more efficient. Boeing is now going to work on 787s that need more time at the EMC due to all the re-work that has to be performed. The tables below summarizes my projections:
While I try to be as accurate as I can the projections are my opinion and actual delivery numbers more likely differ from my estimate. There are unforseen issues that can crop upo similar to the issues that held up deliveries to Air India, Qatar Airways and the Chinese carriers. Additionally, labor strife may once again become a hinderance to deliveries this year if the engineers of SPEEA go on strike. Word is that a strike may be authorized in Februrary. Boeing and SPEEA are to go back to the Federal Mediator on January 9th to try and come to an agreement. If one isn't forth coming then the strike will severely slow down production of all Boeing jetliners as well as significantly slow down the testing and certification of the 787-9. Boeing can make up some work by using managment engineers but it won't be enough to fill the void. The other issue is the need to manage the production rate increases carefully. 2012 showed that Boeign can do this but they were very measured in their approach last year. In 2013 Boeing will be more aggresive with the 787 rate increase (two rate jumps from 5 to 7 and then from 7 to 10) and any issues can mean serious trouble not unlike the production snafus in the late 1990s.
Boeing ended 2012 on an excellent note by regaining it's former position as the top commercial aircraft producer (thanks to the 46 787 deliveries). Boeing is poised to continue that dominance but there will be issues that Boeing will need to resolve if 2013 is to be more successful in 787 deliveries than 2012. We'll see how it tuens out.