787: It’s more than a dream… Or is it?

– 787 flight test aircraft may not return to the skies until 2011
– 6-9 month delay predicted
– EIS August-October 2011
– Redesign of P100 panel, modification of backup equipments built into estimate
– Ramp-up to 10/month by end-2013 may be threatened

Boeing launched its latest advertising campaign in early October, declaring that its flagship product, 787 Dreamliner, “is more than a dream”. Not long thereafter, on 9th November, the second 787 test aircraft, dubbed as ZA002, suffered an in-flight fire which was caused by the P100 panel in its aft Equipment/Electronics (E/E) Bay and forced the Chicago-based airframer to halt flight testing the revolutionary aircraft.

This latest setback could not have come at a worse time as the 787 flight test fleet enters its final stage of testing and its sixth delay already pushes the aircraft’s first delivery to ANA (All Nippon Airways) to February 2011 (“6th Boeing 787 delay could be worse“, 27th Aug 10), nearly three years behind its original Entry Into Service (EIS) target of May 2008.

All Images Courtesy of Randy’s Journal

The Wall Street was apparently disappointed and upset over the threat of a seventh delay, which was deemed “inevitable” by many financial analysts and sent its share price to tank from US$70.85 on 4th November to US$63.59 on 19th November, a 10.2% drop in two weeks’ time.

According to Aspire Aviation‘s source who is close to Boeing, that this electrical fire is a contained one, though this does not rule out the need to redesign the P100 panel and modify other backup equipment.

Meanwhile, Aspire Aviation predicts a 6-9 month delay to the first delivery of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA), i.e. August – October 2011.

“The team investigating the incident in Laredo has developed a detailed understanding of the ZA002 incident, though more work remains to complete the investigation,” Boeing said in its latest updated version of its statement over the ZA002 incident.

Month No. of flight hours
December 2009 18.95
January 2010 47.38
February 2010 136.67
March 2010 203.58
April 2010 141.17
May 2010 329.75
June 2010 209.50
July 2010 298.67
August 2010 299.58
September 2010 224.92
October 2010 334.42
November 2010 146.67
Total 2391.25

Data compiled by Uresh at All Things 787

Should Boeing be able to conclude its investigation in early December, the 787 flight test fleet may still be unable to return to the skies and flight testing is not likely to resume before the year turns.

Further taking into account that the redesign of the P100 panel and/or modification of backup equipments takes up a month, the 787 flight testing is unlikely to resume until January at the earliest or possibly February in a worse case scenario.

In addition, even if the 787 resumes flight testing, the redesign of the P100 and/or modification of backup equipments will have to be verified and tested first, adding to the tally of 3,100 flight hours for the entire 787 flight test programme and 2,430 flight hours required to certify the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-powered 787, albeit by an insignificant amount.

Then it is February or March when the original “normal” 787 flight testing resumes, depending on the better or worse case scenario.

Critically, the Extended Twin Engines Operations (ETOPS) testing remains months away before the 787 can enter into service, making the 2,430 hours required for certifying RR Trent 1000-powered 787 only being reached by May or June.

The next 1 to 2 months are built in Aspire Aviation‘s forecast as margins or buffers against the cumulative effect of some small, unforeseen issues that may prop up later on. This possibility cannot be ruled out despite the 787 flight test fleet has already retired a significant amount of risks; after all, virtually everything that can delay the game-changer from being delivered has done so and it remains unclear if this electrical fire issue will be the last to plague the programme.

Should the redesign, manufacturing and testing of modifications take longer than expected, or any further bumps along the road be realised, the EIS target may easily be pushed to October 2011.

Most importantly, with Boeing chief financial officer (CFO) James Bell said in an August 31st Morgan Stanley conference that the sixth delay, caused by the engine unavailability, will not affect the production ramp-up plan to 10 per month by end of 2013, it is very likely that this ramp-up plan will also be postponed due to the latest woes and the preparations required to enable production 787 aircraft to be deliverable.

Therefore minimising the impact of the seventh delay on the production ramp-up, if it was realised, is paramount to minimise any financial impact on its future balance sheet and financial guidance.

On the other hand, if Boeing could swap ZA004’s Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 “Package A” engines while the fix is being implemented, more time in swapping out the engines might be saved and thereby enabling the test aircraft to contribute to flight testing efforts as soon as possible.

Above all, however, it is important for Boeing to get the 787 right, not as soon as possible at the expense of safety.

Furthermore, we are still confident over the fundamental, revolutionary technological leaps that the 787 brings, including the One-Piece Contoured Barrel (OPCB), Trailing Edge Variable Camber (TEVC), and lower cabin altitude, more humid and fresh cabin air, etc.

We are also convinced that the possibility of a potential loss of order is limited as no aircraft can provide the same fuel efficiency as the 787 does and as early as the 787 does, such as the A330-200/300 burns 3.1 L of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometres whereas the baseline 787-8 burns 2.6 L.

While a seventh delay may be disruptive to 787 customers’ replacement and expansion plans, switching to the A350 XWB may be equally unwise due to the long queue before the latter aircraft is being delivered.

Boeing therefore should provide interim lift, such as giving additional 777-200ER or 777-300ER, also as compensations, to those carriers.

Japan’s ANA, in the meantime, tells Aspire Aviation that the impact of a potential seventh 787 delay is still unclear.

“Without the updated delivery schedule for our entire 787 order, it is difficult to make contingency plans. However, any future delay would not affect the routes and schedules ANA has already announced for this fiscal year (October 2010 to March 2011). For the next fiscal year, we have just started the process of drafting business plans, so it is too early to tell,” ANA spokeswoman Nao Gunji commented.

“At the moment, we don’t have a plan to order 777-300ERs in lieu of 787s,” Gunji added (“All Nippon Airways eyes further 787 compensation“, 13th Sep 10).

In conclusion, while the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will undoubtedly be in the history book as a “revolutionary aircraft” and as a “game-changer”, people are going to have a serious black eye on it, at least in the foreseeable future.

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