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Originally published Friday, June 25, 2010 at 11:21 AM

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Dreamliner chief says production will slow in September

Boeing 787 program chief Scott Fancher disclosed Friday that deliveries of completed Dreamliner sections to Everett will be slowed during September, but he provided few details.

Times aerospace reporter; Dominic Gates

Boeing 787 program chief Scott Fancher disclosed Friday that deliveries of completed Dreamliner sections to Everett will be slowed during September.

He said the move was caused by a need to push out some early 787 deliveries, but provided no details on the extent of the slowdown.

Some airlines "may get an airplane a month or two later" than scheduled, he said.

The slowdown, which will affect the 787 supply chain, is unrelated to the quality problem with the horizontal tails revealed Thursday.

On that issue, Fancher confirmed test flights of Dreamliners No. 2 and 3 were postponed so the horizontal tails could be inspected for an assembly flaw.

Late Friday, Boeing advised its flight-test teams that Dreamliner No. 2 was set to fly Saturday from Boeing Field, indicating that this plane had passed its inspection.

Inspections for Dreamliner No. 3, which is in Arizona, were to continue Saturday, and the plane cannot fly before Sunday at the earliest.

Fancher said fixing any flaws in the tail sections could take up to eight days for each plane.

The September production slowdown — which includes slowed deliveries of completed sections to the final assembly line in Everett — came as a surprise.

In a hastily arranged teleconference with journalists Friday, Fancher said a shuffling of the delivery schedule is required because some early customers are requesting later delivery.

It was left unclear exactly why this should affect production, since Boeing has in the past said other customers are eager to step into early delivery slots so they can get airplanes sooner. Presenting the move positively, Fancher said the slowdown will be useful to let suppliers catch up.

The undisclosed total of planned deliveries in 2010 and 2011 will be unaffected, he said.

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Fancher said he doesn't expect that any Boeing customers eager to get their planes will be caught by the delivery slowdown.

"I don't think we are going to be disappointing anybody with the deliveries, but there are always subtleties we have to work out with our customers," Fancher said.

The September slowdown will be the second one announced this year.

In April, Boeing announced a five-week halt in deliveries of airplane sections to Everett after its suppliers ran into difficulties getting vital parts. That slowdown in work flow was also billed as an opportunity for all the partners to catch up and get their work synchronized.

However, the assembly line in Everett is not yet back to normal after that stoppage.

This week, two of the four assembly positions are occupied by planes that were originally finished weeks ago but have been taken back inside for rework.

On the problem with the horizontal tails, Fancher confirmed that mechanics working for 787 partner Alenia of Italy incorrectly installed shims — pieces of composite material used to fill gaps in the structure during assembly — where the tail joins the fuselage. In addition, they overtightened fasteners in the same area, which can cause compression and damage.

Fancher said that for each horizontal tail section on either side of the fuselage, one shim and a dozen fasteners must be inspected and if necessary reworked. That applies to all 25 of the tail assemblies delivered so far, of which 23 are already installed.

"We are still working out the details," Fancher said.

Three of the five flight-test airplanes are parked for test-preparatory work and were not expected to fly soon in any case.

On those planes, ground tests and preparation for future flight tests can be conducted concurrently with the tail rework so that the test schedule for those three jets should be minimally affected, Fancher said.

Even if flight-test planes have to be pulled out of testing to be fixed, that shouldn't delay first delivery to All Nippon Airways (ANA) by year end, he said.

"We still have schedule margin available to us," Fancher said. "That's why we still have confidence in our plan to deliver to our customer by year end."

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