Boeing will activate the 787 surge line at Everett in June as it continues to ramp-up production to five per month by year-end. As the company is also in the process of preparing for the start of assembly of the stretched 787-9, Boeing indicates it could dedicate lines to specific variants (one for 787-8s, the other 787-9s or one a mix of both) – at least in the short term as a means to protect its rate-building capacity. This inevitably raises speculation that the new line could potentially host the first stretched 787-9 which is due to begin final assembly in Everett in early 2013.
Surge line at 40-24 (indicated in red), and current 777 and 787 lines (Guy Norris)
Confirming the long-expected decision to activate the surge line, Pat Shanahan, senior vice president and general manager of Airplane Programs at Boeing Commercial Airplanes says the additional capacity is “risk protection.” The surge line is being put together in the former site of the 767 assembly area in building 40-24. “When we go to the 787-9 we’re rate protected if we want to run the -9s down one line and -8s on the other,” says Shanahan who adds that while the existing line rate is at 2.5 per month, the supply chain is “already performing at 3.5 per month.”
Shanahan, who was speaking at the Barclays Capital Industrial Select Conference in Miami, says in terms of ramp-up and overall development “the pendulum has finally shifted from risk to opportunity.” Beyond development, it’s been pretty exciting retiring the risk around the development on 747-8 and 787. Certification last year was a real watershed for us and now a real focus on enter-into-service.”
Tooling fixtures come together on the surge line in 40-24. Note JAL 787 at far end (Guy Norris)
The surge line replicates the existing 787 assembly line in the adjacent building 40-26, and together with the Charleston facility coming on-stream this summer in South Carolina, will be part of a planned ramp-up to 10 per month by the end of 2013. The jump to 3.5 per month is expected “within a couple of units, and we’ll be ready to go there,” he adds.
The massive final body join tooling tower at Position 1 on the 40-26 line (Guy Norris)
Shanahan also adds that “in about 18 months we will be flying the 787-9. We’re 30% released (engineering release) on that airplane,” which he says “is orders of magnitude better in terms of development discipline, schedule execution and overall performance” than the 787-8.
Assuming Shanahan’s “18 months” from now means some time around July-August 2013, then this means a sporty flight test and certification effort to meet even the recently revised delivery target of second quarter 2014 to launch customer Air New Zealand. Boeing is due to begin major assembly of the first 787-9 in the fourth quarter of this year, ahead of final assembly starting in Everett in 2013. Earlier this month at the Singapore air show, Boeing said first flight of the stretch was on course for the middle of next year, with first delivery to Air New Zealand scheduled for early 2014.
Has Boeing added a little more margin to the 787-9 schedule, or is everyone getting overly obsessed with second-guessing Boeing’s senior executives when it comes to predicting the ever volatile 787 schedule?