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Originally published May 24, 2011 at 7:41 PM | Page modified May 24, 2011 at 10:16 PM

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Boeing will build next 787's first horizontal tails in Seattle

Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Jim Albaugh confirmed for the first time Tuesday that the company intends to do initial production work...

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

quotes "What we're really scratching our heads over right now is ... the production... Read more
quotes "One of the unintended consequences of all the outsourcing we did (on the 787) is... Read more
quotes Boeing builds best when Americans build them. Union, or non-union, Americans know how... Read more

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Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Jim Albaugh confirmed for the first time Tuesday that the company intends to do initial production work in Seattle on the horizontal tails for the next version of the Dreamliner, the 787-9.

Albaugh spoke at the company's annual investor conference at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle, which was webcast.

While he and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney offered assurances that the 787 Dreamliner program is now in good shape, they also talked about how earlier problems and delays on the program will reshape future production.

At lunch with Wall Street analysts later, Albaugh said Boeing has decided the horizontal tails on the next version won't be made in Italy, as they are for the initial 787-8 model.

Engineers will perfect the method for producing the horizontal tail at the Development Center beside Boeing Field, and will do early production runs there to mature the process.

Later production may move somewhere else within Boeing once the manufacturing method is working well, though the Seattle facility may keep part of the production longer term, Boeing spokeswoman Mary Foerster said later.

The current state of the 787 is looking up, according to presentations at the conference. Boeing is to begin the final phase of flight tests next month. One of the test planes will soon deploy to Japan for extensive flying with launch customer All Nippon Airways in preparation for first delivery before the end of September.

"We really are in the end game," said 787 program chief Scott Fancher.

Next up after the Dreamliner, and equally important to the future of manufacturing in the Puget Sound region, is a new narrow-body airplane to replace the 737.

Both Albaugh and McNerney indicated that they will make a decision on whether to go ahead with that next new jet only toward the end of the year.

McNerney said a go-ahead is likely, though Boeing will retain the option of instead putting a new engine on the 737 "if this new airplane doesn't come together over the next nine months."

It's not just the design of the plane that Albaugh's planning team is grappling with.

"What we're really scratching our heads over right now is ... the production system," he said. "How do we take an airplane that's probably composite and how do we ramp it up from zero airplanes a month to 40, 50 or 60? How do you do that in a short period of time?"

Albaugh referred several times to the failings of the 787 production system, which have caused that jet to be more than three years late.

"This time, we need to design an airplane and a production system together," Albaugh said.

Albaugh said the next jet, even if made from the same composite material as the 787, may be made very differently.

He said engineers are studying whether the future jet, expected to be ready to enter service at the end of this decade, might be manufactured without the large and very expensive high-pressure ovens called autoclaves that are used to harden the composite material on the 787.

Boeing would not elaborate afterward on what technology Albaugh was alluding to. One possibility is a technology worked on at Boeing's fabrication plant in Winnipeg, Canada: electron beam curing, where the plastic is hardened by irradiating it with high-energy electrons.

Like Albaugh, McNerney reiterated Boeing will do more work in-house on the new jet than on the Dreamliner and try to protect its expertise in composites technology.

McNerney said Boeing's attitude with the 787 had been "outsource it ... get rid of the cost of supervising it."

"You end up realizing you need more cost to supervise outside factories," he said. "Unfortunately we paid billions upon billions in the learning process."

Albaugh said the lesson is already apparent on the second Dreamliner model: Boeing is doing 70 percent of the engineering for the 787-9, compared with 50 percent on the initial 787-8 model.

"One of the unintended consequences of all the outsourcing we did (on the 787) is we paid people to develop intellectual property that they now own," Albaugh said. If the new airplane is given the green light, he said, "you'll see a much different approach to outsourcing."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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