– Boeing assembling 115th 787-8
– First 787-9 LN126 ‘slightly underweight’
– First 787-9 final assembly to start in May
– 787-9 first flight in Aug/Sep & EIS in April 2014
– LN103 787-8 meeting weight targets
– Earlier than LN140-150 ‘several hundred kilogrammes’ overweight forecast
– Latest Rev L 787 specification shows 2018 performance standard
– Boeing to resume 787 deliveries by early May
– Boeing to complete battery modification on ‘bulk’ of fleet by mid-May
– Boeing already started battery fix on 10 fleet & 9 production airplanes
“Toil without song is like a weary journey without an end,” H P Lovecraft wrote. And so when Boeing received the final approval from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on 19 April over the three-layered battery solution proposed by the world’s largest plane-maker to return the company’s signature, but grounded carbon-composite Boeing 787 Dreamliner to commercial flight, its vice president (VP) of marketing Randy Tinseth published a blog post titled “Don’t stop believin’” detailing the sense of accomplishment in putting a more than three months long grounding of the revolutionary aircraft to an end.
The longest grounding of a US jet since the DC-10 in 1979 was prompted by an imbroglio of overheating incidents involving the 787 Dreamliner’s lithium-ion battery, first on the aft electrical/equipment (E/E) bay of a parked Japan Airlines (JAL) 787 at Boston Logan International Airport on January 7, followed by the main lithium-ion battery on the forward E/E bay which swelled and spewed flammable electrolytes on an ANA Holdings Inc. 787-8 on 16 January. The latter incident, which resulted in an emergency landing at Takamatsu, Japan, led to the issuance of an emergency airworthiness directive (EAD) by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounding the US-based fleet and effectively the worldwide fleet as regulators around the globe usually follow the lead of the FAA (“Boeing 777X & 787-10X unfazed by 787 battery woes“, 14th Feb, 13).
“Safety of the travelling public is our number one priority. These changes to the 787 battery will ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers,” US transportation secretary Ray LaHood said.
The approval by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the battery change saw 10 airplane on ground (AOG) teams consisting of more than 300 Boeing employees starting modification work after Boeing releasing a service bulletin (SB) detailing the steps and work required for such a change. The US FAA issued an airworthiness directive (AD) on Thursday superseding the January 16 one, thereby effectively lifting the grounding and enabling the aircraft to commence commercial flights.
“FAA approval clears the way for us and the airlines to begin the process of returning the 787 to flight with continued confidence in the safety and reliability of this game-changing new airplane. The promise of the 787 and the benefits it provides to airlines and their passengers remain fully intact as we take this important step forward with our customers and programme partners,” Boeing chairman, president and chief executive Jim McNerney declared.
As the modification work began on 10 fleet and 9 production aircraft, which will be completed on the bulk of the fleet by mid-May, Boeing could finally put behind and look beyond the latest fiasco, get the focus right on the production ramp-up to 10 aircraft per month by the end of this year, introducing the stretched and significantly improved 787-9 variant in early 2014, as well as launching the highly sought-after 323-seat double-stretched 787-10X variant, where a latent demand is awaiting to be unleashed to replace the 777-200ER, Airbus A330-200s and -300s in one fell swoop.
Provided that Boeing execute well on these challenging but not insurmountable tasks, a big ‘if’ after earning a serious black eye in its perennial delivery delays and the latest battery grounding episode, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner could well be a dream come true for the Chicago-based airframer again.
Heat on Boeing & its 787 to dissipate – if not soon
In order to resolve the battery issue once and for all, Boeing has devised a comprehensive three-layered solution that features a significantly improved battery design which was a result of more than 200,000 engineering hours spent.
The first layer entails manufacturing improvements at the battery supplier GS Yuasa, calling for considerably more rigorous production tests for cells and batteries that see a higher percentage of lithium-ion batteries being rejected as a larger number of batteries fail to pass the new, more stringent tests as a result. Build process for the cells and batteries were also enhanced.
The second layer, meanwhile, involves significant design enhancements introduced to the lithium-cobalt oxide battery which were redesigned twice before prior to the 787’s service entry on October 25, 2011. First of all, there is improved dielectric insulation added between the 8 individual battery cells so as to isolate any single-cell failure to the particular cell involved and prevent a thermal runaway by spreading the heat generated to another cell. The individual battery cell is also going to be wrapped in electrical isolation tape, while spacer is added for both thermal and electrical insulation. A new terminal will feature locking fasteners ensuring the individual cells are locked into the right place in addition to heat and chafe resistant wire harness.
New frame with drain holes will eliminate any impact moisture may have on the battery cells while the battery monitoring unit will have a tightened voltage range under which the Tuscon, Arizona-based Securaplane-built battery charger will have a lower maximum charging level, an increased minimum charging level and a softened charging sequence that reduce the battery’s workload versus the previous iteration of the battery.
The most important feature included in the fix is a 3mm-thick stainless steel box that forms an enclosure around the lithium-ion battery and a vent line connected to the exterior of the 787 fuselage through which any spewed flammable electrolyte, vapours and the associated heat and pressure generated will be vented overboard. A burst disc indicator will alert the pilots that the burst disc has been broken and that a venting event has taken place. This ensures there is no potential for fire “so as long as we keep the vented air out of the enclosure there’s no oxygen to support combustion”, Boeing vice president and 787 chief project engineer Mike Sinnett said.
Perhaps what Boeing needs to convince the flying public in order to regain their confidence in the airplane featuring cutting-edge technologies is that the test data from the new and significantly improved battery complies with the RTCA DO-311 standard whose tests Boeing did not conduct on the original battery, including inserting a heating element to the lithium-ion battery to generate a large amount of energy within the battery and drive the cells to failure, versus the original test of drilling a nail into the battery to induce a short-circuit. Boeing then conducted the same test on the old battery and compared the two results, which were a stark contrast and a powerful validation on the improvement that has been made.
In the old battery all 8 cells vent and the temperature of the enclosure soared to 300 degrees Celsius whereas in the new battery only 2 cells have vented with a peak temperature of 125 degrees Celsius before cooling down to around 75-80 degrees Celsius as the heat and vapour were released to the outside of the airplane.
“We could see with the previous battery when we insert a heating element inside the battery and heat the battery until it fails, we get an enclosure temperature of about as we see here a maximum of 300 degrees C. And the heating element in between 2 of the cells puts about 300,000 joules of energy into the battery, forcing the cell to heat up and vent. So that’s how we simulate a battery failure by adding extra energy into the battery to make it fail,” Sinnett elaborated.
“So the enclosure doesn’t get really hot. The failure that we’ve simulated is limited to only 2 cells and the overall temperature is significantly lower. This demonstrates the effectiveness of the thermal and electrical protections we’ve put inside the new battery that also demonstrates the ability of the enclosure to protect the electronics bay and the rest of the airplane from worst-case battery situation.
“We design criteria for the enclosure is that the enclosure has to be able to be at a temperature of 300 degrees Celsius without creating any thermal risk to the airplane, or any heat damage to the surrounding area or systems. So 300 degrees Celsius is our design limit for the enclosure,” Sinnett summed up.
Furthermore, in the new battery each individual cell is insulated so well electromagnetically such that the lithium-ion battery continued to produce a good quality of voltage of electricity for more than an hour until the 5th cell vented.
“We found that in all of the testing that we’ve been performing that when we drive the cell to failure in the previous version of the battery, we’ve got electrical interaction among cells as they swell and touch each other and electrical interaction between the cells and the battery case itself. This was not an intended part of the design and also that that electrical activity causes the other cells of the battery to heat up and get them closer to the venting point and as one of the means of propagations from cell to cell of a failure of the battery,” Sinnett explained.
“But what was unique in the airplane test was that when we ran the test with the APU [auxiliary power unit] battery configuration and the APU battery provided as a power source for the APU controller, the brain of the APU. With the previous battery we’ve learned that with a single cell venting, the entire battery gets involved electrically and shuts down and the APU stops operating. In the test we ran on ZA005 in last week, what we’re able to demonstrate was that even after we forced the first cell to vent with the heating element, the battery continues making voltage at good power quality and the APU controller continued to operate.
“In fact after the first cell vented, the APU continued to operate for an hour after the first cell vented and only shut down upon the venting of the fifth cell of the battery. So those tests demonstrated the significant improvement in performance of the dielectric isolation and the thermal protection inside the battery,” Sinnett commented.
Crucially, this new battery enables Boeing to move ahead with the modification plan and returns the 787 Dreamliner to service without waiting endlessly for the root cause of the multiple short-circuits within cell number 6 on the Japan Airlines 787 in Boston which remains elusive and there is a real possibility that the root cause may never be identified as the resulting thermal runaway caused severe fire damage to the aircraft’s battery and potentially destroyed evidence leading to the uncovering of the root cause.
“In my mind it’s a more robust solution than if we’d gone after a single root cause,” Boeing 787 programme vice president (VP) and general manager (GM) Larry Loftis asserted.
What remains unchanged, however, is the aircraft’s fundamentally strong business case in being the only available aircraft catered for long-haul thin routes whose 21% fuel burn saving, coupled with a 30% reduction in maintenance costs as its patented one-piece contoured barrel (OPCB) eliminates 40,000-50,000 fasteners per barrel while varying the thickness of the barrel in different locations according to their respective engineering loads and meshing a copper wire to provide a path for electrical current, make the 787 Dreamliner indispensable for airlines seeking to pursue these point-to-point growth opportunities.
This is highlighted by the fact that ANA Holdings Inc. subsidiary All Nippon Airways suspended long-haul thin routes to the US following the Dreamliner’s grounding, such as Tokyo Narita-Seattle, Tokyo Narita-San Jose, Kansai-Seoul, and Nagoya-Seoul until 31st May as well as Japan Airlines (JAL) postponing the launch of the Tokyo Haneda-Helsinki route until further notice.
While its transatlantic arch-rival Airbus has continued to improve its venerable A330 offerings, including raising both the A330-200 and -300’s maximum take-off weight (MTOW) to 242 tonnes and unlocking the latter’s centre fuel tank for the first time that will increase the former’s range by 350nm (nautical miles) against today’s 238t -200s and the latter by 500nm against today’s 235t -300s, the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner remains the only competitive offering in the 250-seat segment in the coming decades where Airbus has no corresponding future product line-up.
That said, the intense heat and scrutiny Boeing has been under since the 787’s grounding will ultimately fade away, albeit not in the short-term as both the media and financial markets will undoubtedly keep a close eye on the aircraft’s return to commercial service and All Nippon Airways’ 100-200 test flights between Tokyo Narita, Tokyo Haneda and New Chitose in Hokkaido which enables pilots at Asia’s largest carrier by sales to renew their qualifications before resuming passenger flights in June, Reuters has reported.
Quiet, but notable 787 progress
That said, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner programme has made quiet but significant progress behind the scenes, especially in the 787’s weight, production ramp-up and the stretched 787-9 variant, in addition to its production cost.
For instance, the Boeing 787-8 baseline variant has met the original manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) and airline-specific operating empty weight (OEW) targets much earlier than initially envisioned, with an AirInsight newsletter firstly reporting that line number LN103 has met those targets, which is subsequently confirmed by Aspire Aviation‘s sources at the world’s biggest aircraft-maker.
This is significantly earlier than the “a few hundred kilogrammes” overweight forecast by LN140-150 in the Rev K specification, while Aspire Aviation can exclusively reveal that the latest 787 Rev L specification is showing performance standard in 2018, underlining the company’s confidence in the continuous weight reduction effort.
While critics are quick to point out LN103 meeting weight specifications indicates a sluggish learning curve, it is important to bear in mind that the Boeing 787 is the world’s first large commercial airliner utilising carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) to such a great extent, even more than the upcoming Airbus A350 as the larger Airbus aircraft, while consisting of 53% CFRP by weight versus the 787’s 50%, the former utilises a composite panel approach of which Airbus contends composite panels enable a customised thickness in localised areas and a relatively easier maintenance process in removing the panels while Boeing refuted by saying that the US Federal Aviation Administration has approved of the company’s patch pair process.
Moreover, the notion that the 787 is no longer a weighty matter is further evidenced by the progress of the 787-9 variant. Not only is the 280-seat 8,050nm (nautical miles) 787-9 emerging unscathed from its smaller sibling’s grounding, the first 787-9 ever produced, LN126 has outperformed expectations and is currently “slightly underweight” compared to the airframer’s expectations of meeting manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) and operating empty weight (OEW) by LN126.
The 787-9 has “effectively completed engineering work”, Boeing president, chairman and chief executive Jim McNerney said Wednesday on the company’s 2013 first-quarter earnings conference call.
Aspire Aviation‘s multiple sources at Boeing confirmed that the 787-9 remains on schedule to have its first flight in August or September as the targeted window for the milestone before its first delivery in April 2014 to its launch customer Air New Zealand (ANZ). The first -9 will enter the final assembly line (FAL) in May, Boeing 787 programme vice president (VP) and general manager Larry Loftis said.
“We are reassured and very confident that there is no risk to production or delivery timings around the 787-9 for the middle of the next year,” Air New Zealand (ANZ) chief executive Christopher Luxon commented.
“The Boeing 787-9 aircraft is going to be a game-changer aircraft for us. We remain really committed to it,” Luxon reaffirmed.
While it is true that the 787-8 parts are over-engineered and the -9 part design takes advantage of the lesson learnt, it is also indicative of the maturing 787 production system, which has successfully achieved the rate break to 7 units per month, Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney revealed this Wednesday.
Likewise, the 787 is making considerable and respectable progress in costs, where the gross inventory for the 787 programme increased US$3.3 billion during the first quarter to US$28.8 billion. Yet it is the slower-than-expected increase in the balance of deferred production cost to US$17.1 billion, representing 61 airplanes still in process that caught Wall Street analysts by surprise, although a pleasant one.
In raising the target price of Boeing significantly, investment bank Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a 24 April note to clients that “unit deferred production improvement was way ahead of our expectations, declining to ~$73M (assuming 16 787s produced), from ~$97M in Q4. Note that deferred production cost is still calculable even without associated deliveries (from the 787 grounding). It is a production-based metric, whereas unit and programme margins are delivery-based”.
“Movement into the next unit block with a greater number of aircraft (owing to the production ramp) is a key factor, along with a broad range of efficiency initiatives and price step downs. CFO Smith detailed that unit cost between line #s 8 and 100 declined by ~60%, implying to us a reduction from ~$400M to ~$160M with deferred production on line# 100 down to ~$60M. While we do not expect such a sizeable move each quarter from here, this improvement enhances BA’s [Boeing’s] credibility on its learning curve and causes us to more closely align our projected unit cost curve with BA’s, and raise our peak FCF [free cash flow] forecast again”.
“787 deferred production grew by less than expected $1.2B, much improved from $1.6-1.7B build in Q4 on similar production. We estimate deferred production per unit improved by $30-35M relative to Q4,” UBS analysts concurred in a note on 24 April.
Interestingly, Boeing insists that the battery modification is not going to impact the 787’s unit cost significantly nor will it derail the progress achieved so far as the design and modification cost is going to be spread over the accounting block of 1,100 units.
“Period costs and particularly around R&D and around our root cause investigation redesign, the testing of that and then also our estimated cost of incurring the repair for our customers fleet going forward. So, that’s what was primarily reflected there. And as far as the cost base as you referred to in the 1,100 units there was a slight increase there for the additional retrofit on the undelivered airplanes throughout the balance of the cost base,” Boeing chief financial officer (CFO) Greg Smith contended.
“Well, we managed to absorb this. So, it was really a matter of priorities and we re-shifted our priorities and our people onto this effort from other efforts. It’s minimal within the accounting block,” Smith reiterated.
While Boeing declines to put a figure on the battery fix, the US Federal Aviation Administration has pegged the modification cost to United Airlines’ 6 Boeing 787-8s at US$2.8 million or US$466,667 per airplane. By the same token, should the cost remain the same for 115 airplanes produced, the total one-off cost should be US$53.7 million. Fixing the 50 examples in the worldwide fleet alone costs US$23.3 million.
Meanwhile, Boeing has taken the opportunity to improve the 787’s components, one of which was the faulty electrical panel that preluded the 787’s grounding. Japanese carrier ANA Holdings Inc. reported 3 instances of electrical panel faults in 2012, including the most serious one in April 2012 where it found burns in the electrical panel’s protection circuit, Reuters reported.
“The power panels were one, we’ve taken some actions to ensure the power panels that are on the airplane are of the intended quality and if they are not, we’re replacing them, part of the AOG team doing. Additionally, other components of the airplane such as generators up to the latest standard, in some cases installing hydraulic types that are more robust in certain areas,” Boeing vice president (VP) and chief project engineer Mike Sinnett clarified.
Sinnett said all these improvements will be retrofitted to all airplanes and that the 787’s in-service dispatch reliability stacks up against those of the 777s, the industry benchmark of higher than 95% before the grounding, and that it compares favourably to the 777 in terms of the number of reportable events, incidents that are required to be reported to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
On the other hand, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on April 12 approved the General Electric GEnx-1B performance improvement package 2 (PIP 2) after conducting a test flight on ZA005 on April 6, Aviation Week reported. The GEnx-1B engine saw its effective fan diameter being increased by 0.5 inch, its outlet guide vanes (OGV), low-pressure compressor (LPC), high-pressure compressor (HPC) being improved in addition to a more durable high-pressure turbine (HPT), the Aviation Week report said.
This is crucial to enabling the Boeing 787 to be continuously improved and further increase its market appeal as being a uniquely positioned point-to-point aircraft as the GEnx-1B missed close to 3% in specific fuel consumption (SFC) before the PIP 1 clawing back 1.7% and the PIP 2 another 1%, of which General Electric (GE) officials are adamant that these will enable the GEnx-1B engine to meet or be slightly better than the original SFC specification.
Similarly, Rolls-Royce is expected to introduce the Trent 1000-TEN (Thrust Efficiency New Technology) in the first half of 2016, which will incorporate improvements from the Trent XWB and slash the Trent 1000 Package B’s specific fuel consumption (SFC) by 3%, whereas the Package B is understood to still be 3% higher than the original engine SFC, Aspire Aviation‘s sources at Boeing say (“Boeing is in no rush to fast-track future widebody strategy“, 27th Nov, 12). The Package A engine was said to have missed original SFC target by 4.3%.
787-10: a new industry medium to long-haul workhorse
While the 787’s return to commercial service, coupled with the maturing 787 production system and Boeing’s tightened quality control at a component level would bring a catharsis to 787 customers, the potential launch of the game-changing 323-seat 787-10X would invariably mark a watershed moment for the 787 programme and unleashes latent demand for the aircraft, which looks promising once again with the formal launch “Gate 4” coinciding this year’s Paris Air Show in June.
Importantly, the 787-10 is going to be a highly efficient industry workhorse replacing both the Airbus A330-200 and -300 in markets where the extra range of the Airbus A350 is not required while its mission creep would also make it an ideal replacement for the Boeing 777-200ER as well. The aircraft, with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 250,800kg (552,919lbs), maximum landing weight (MLW) of 201,800kg and a maximum zero fuel weight (MZFW) of 192,800kg, will have a length of 68.28m (224ft). It is a 5.49m (18ft) stretch of the 280-seat Boeing 787-9 with a 5-frame and 4-frame stretch in the forward and aft fuselages, respectively.
Boeing has recently boosted the double-stretched variant’s range to 7,100nm (nautical miles) with a higher engine thrust powering the now slightly higher gross weight aircraft, according to Air Lease Corporation (ALC) founder and chief executive Steven Udvar Hazy, the godfather of the aircraft leasing industry. Both of the General Electric GEnx-1B PIP 2 (performance improvement package) and Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-TEN engines powering the 787-10X are capable of generating 78,000lbs of thrust.
This enables the aircraft to cover 95% and 92% of all A330-200 and 777-200ER missions, respectively, based on the former’s and latter’s respective ranges of 7,500nm and 7,725nm, while flying 10.9% farther than the 242-tonne A330-300 whose range stands at 6,400nm.
Indeed, when one considers its 25% block fuel burn reduction over the A330-300 and that the A350-900 has a 24% larger empennage, a 20% larger wing and a heavier airframe, it is apparent that the 787-10X offers the right mix of payload/range and fuel burn saving that combined translates into the most efficient medium to long-haul airplane with a 10% lower cash operating cost (COC), a 4% lower relative trip cost and a 8% lower relative seat-mile cost on a 6,000nm mission than the A350-900, as well as holding a 5% COC advantage over the 350-seat A350-1000 on such sectors (“Launch of Boeing 787-10X has implications on 777X programme“, 22nd Oct, 12).
For example, the 323-seat 787-10X would perfectly replace the Airbus A330-300s and Boeing 777-200s/300s on intra-Asia routes where 3 to 4 daily sectors could be flown on each aircraft. A snapshot of the Asia/Pacific Airbus A330-300 fleet would provide a picture of a large replacement market, where carriers such as Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways has 36 examples in its fleet plus 11 on order and its wholly-owned subsidiary Dragonair’s 18 examples; Singapore Airlines (SIA) has 20 in its fleet plus another 14 due to be delivered; China Eastern Airlines (CEA) has 15 A330-300s and 13 A330-200s, with another 8 on order; Air China has 30 A330-200s and 10 -300s with another 1 and 13 on order, respectively; China Southern Airlines has 16 A330-200s and 8 -300s with another 16 -300s remaining on its backlog, not to mention the 18 additional examples ordered by China yesterday.
As these Airbus A330s begin to age, the 787-10X will be highly sought-after as airlines clamour for fuel efficiency and that the -10X’s 25% fuel burn saving would be difficult to be negated simply by heavy discounting as fuel accounts for as much as 40% of cash operating cost (COC) these days.
The economic growth in Asia/Pacific that spurs air travel demand within the region will only strengthen the demand for the 787-10X, a region where passenger traffic measured in revenue passenger kilometre (RPK) is forecast to grow by 6.4% annually in, requiring 3,230 new twin-aisle airplanes over the next 20 years, according to Boeing’s latest current market outlook (CMO).
The tremendous amount of flexibility of the 787-10X does not end with intra-Asia flights. Its mission creep means the aircraft is now able to fly transatlantic sectors from Western Europe to North America comfortably in addition to from Western Europe to South America. A recent decision by the International Airlines Group (IAG) to exercise 18 options for the 787 Dreamliner to replace British Airways’ fuel-guzzling 747-400 made clear of the oneworld member’s likely intention to select the 323-seat -10X variant to fly to South American routes such as London Heathrow-Buenos Aires (EZE), London Heathrow-Sao Paulo (GRU) and London Heathrow-Rio de Janeiro (GIG) that are respectively 5,965nm, 5,065nm, 4,954nm long and flights to Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco that are 4,080nm, 4,713nm and 4,637nm long, respectively (“International Airlines Group entering a new dawn in 2013“, 17th Apr, 13).
Replacing the 747-400 on these routes will yield significant fuel burn saving as Boeing is understood to have touted the 787-10X as having a 35% lower block fuel burn than the ageing jumbo jet to potential airline customers for not only British Airways (BA), but also part of United Airlines’ and Lufthansa’s 747-400 fleet of which the former flies the jumbo on San Francisco-London Heathrow and Los Angeles-Frankfurt routes while the latter flies the jumbo between Frankfurt and Chicago and San Francisco.
All these reflect the underlying robustness of the 787-10X’s business case and strong latent demand waiting to be unleashed as soon as it is formally launched. Importantly, Aspire Aviation reiterates its belief that successfully ramping up the 787 production beyond 10 a month is a pre-requisite to provide sufficient delivery slots to customers with its service entry in 2018-2019. With confidence building in the 787 production ramp-up to 10 per month by the end of 2013, bringing the highly-popular airplane to the market as early as possible, perhaps 2017, remains key to realising its fullest potential given the foundation of stretching the -9 further has already been laid which requires minimal capital investment beyond those required by a yet another hike in production rate.
“I think obviously the stability at 10, the supply chain’s capacity to do the 10 with possible higher rates, if that’s what the marketplace supports, are the key questions. The cost of doing this airplane and the technical risk of doing it is not high. There is some capital – there would be some capital involved probably. But I think we’re feeling very good about all of those issues,” Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney said.
“So, we just want to get through what we’re getting through right now. We want to feel good about the production environment that we feel increasingly confident in and when that all comes together and I’d anticipate sooner rather than later we’re going to be making a call here. We’d have to sort through that because if it did require taking up rate that would add a little more time into it.
“I would say the one thing that we don’t lack forward the -10 is demand. Customers want this airplane and so we’re being pushed to get this airplane out. This is more us being disciplined about feeling comfortable with the business case and about the stability of the manufacturing environment overall before we add something else to it, sooner rather than later,” McNerney contended.
Yet the devil is in the details. No matter how promising the 787-10X is or how the smaller 787-8 and -9 variants will revolutionise the long-haul market by bypassing hubs and creating new point-to-point connections between smaller cities, thereby making this world a smaller and better place while enabling airlines to make profit on these routes which would otherwise be economically unfeasible, these ongoing technical glitches have subtly dented airlines’ confidence in Boeing’s ability to deliver on its promises.
One such example would be British Airways’ firm order for 18 Airbus A350-1000s plus another 18 options where people familiar with the matter lamented neither Airbus nor Boeing is able to supply aircraft fast enough to enable it to retire its 30 747-400s as well as the schedule risk it would have exposed the carrier to should it rely on a single aircraft manufacturer to supply the entirety of its long-haul fleet. Japan Airlines (JAL) chairman emeritus Kazuo Inamori has made similar remarks before media reports emerged that the loyal Boeing customer is evaluating a possible order for 20 A350-1000s.
As the Boeing 787 is poised to return to the skies on Saturday 27 April with Ethiopian Airlines, followed by other carriers such as United Airlines’ resumption of 787 service May 31 on the Denver-Houston route and the launch of Denver-Tokyo Narita route on June 10, and LOT Polish Airlines’ on the Warsaw-Chicago route from June 5 onwards, Boeing must rebuild customers’ confidence in the company by executing the 787 programme well and it cannot afford to “over-promise” and “under-deliver” when designing future variants or new airplanes such as the Boeing 777X where a mini-jumbo war is already being waged as the stakes involved are simply too high (“Boeing 777X to spark mini-jumbo war“, 28th Mar, 13).
“I think we may be in an era where we can absorb somewhat less risk and still deliver a lot of performance. 30 years from now will there be some new technology that we’ll all wrestle with? Probably. Hopefully there will be enough people in Boeing that are here today that will remember the lessons learned from the 87, I hope so. I’m old. I’ll be on a beach somewhere then,” Boeing chairman, president and chief executive Jim McNerney conceded on Wednesday’s conference call.
In conclusion, in spite of the battery fiasco and the bumpy rides all along, there is a silver lining as the business case of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner remains sound and that its 180-minute extended twin engine operations (ETOPS) emerges unscathed from the battery incidents, along with its balance sheet. The 787-9 and the as-yet-launched 787-10 are going to bring the 787 programme to even greater heights. What remains to be seen, however, is whether this will be the final “unknown unknowns” of the 787 programme. From the quite progress being achieved, the Boeing 787 looks to be finally a dream come true.
As the Japanese old saying goes, “The more difficult the birth, the more beloved a child is”. In the 787’s case, that could not be more true.
Categories: All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Boeing, British Airways, General Electric, International Airlines Group (IAG), Japan Airlines, Jetstar, Lan, Qantas, Rolls-Royce, United Airlines, United Continental Holdings Tags: 787, 787-10, 787-8, 787-9, A350 XWB, A350-1000, Akbar Al-Baker, All Nippon Airways, Boeing, British Airways, Dreamliner, General Electric, GEnx, International Airlines Group (IAG), Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, United Airlines, United Continental
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