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Originally published July 11, 2011 at 5:48 PM | Page modified July 12, 2011 at 6:22 AM

Boeing freezes 787 production line in place for fifth time

Boeing insists first delivery in September still on track.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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Boeing has suspended deliveries of 787 Dreamliner airplane sections from its suppliers to the assembly line in Everett and will hold the line in place a month while mechanics catch up on work.

Spokesman Scott Lefeber said the production slowdown won't affect the first Dreamliner delivery to All Nippon Airways of Japan, now expected in September.

But it could mean Boeing won't be able to meet its delivery target of 12 to 20 Dreamliners this year.

A person familiar with the condition of the Dreamliners that have already rolled out of the factory, including the planes to be delivered earliest, said work on those jets is progressing extremely slowly.

Particularly time-consuming tasks include the wholesale replacement of air-conditioning units on each jet and the resealing of all the fasteners in the wing tanks.

"They might get two delivered" by year-end, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Lefeber said Boeing contacted suppliers this month to tell them to freeze further shipments of aircraft sections to Everett.

The hold, he said, is "due to a few production areas in the supply chain that are experiencing temporary challenges."

Lefeber said there are "spot parts shortages" with some suppliers, though he declined to name which specific suppliers are affected.

Additionally, Lefeber said, some of the slowdown is due to rework caused by engineering changes that flow out of discoveries in the flight-test program.

Lefeber said that because of Securities and Exchange Commission rules, he couldn't comment on the potential impact to the pace of 787 deliveries ahead of the second-quarter earnings report in two weeks.

However, last week, Ethiopian Airlines, which previously had expected delivery of its first 787s to begin around the turn of the year, indicated it will have to wait some three months to get them.

"We expect them to come in March," Fikre Degife, Ethiopian's regional director for China, said at an aviation conference in Shanghai on Thursday, as reported by the Dow Jones wire service. "This is the information I have as of last night."

Lefeber said management will update the deliveries projection for 2011 when Boeing's earnings are released July 27.

Last year, Boeing halted forward movement of the assembly line and supply chain in a similar fashion on four separate occasions, largely due to quality problems with the horizontal tails from Alenia of Italy.

'Small adjustment'

Boeing insists now, as it did then, the process is nothing more than "a small schedule adjustment," a standard way to get the supply chain synchronized and avoid production bottlenecks.

Suspending deliveries to the assembly line and stopping forward movement is "a proven approach," said Lefeber.

"We've done this at one time or another on every Boeing Commercial Airplanes program," he said.

The supply-chain halt, first reported Monday on the Flightblogger website of the magazine Flight International, will leave the major sections for Dreamliner No. 44 suspended in place at plants in Japan, Italy, Wichita, Kan., and Charleston, S.C., until the end of the month.

Dominic Gates (206) 464-2963 dgates@seattletimes.com.

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