By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
The Boeing Co. Dreamliner program often has stolen the spotlight in recent years during company executives’ quarterly earnings calls with analysts and journalists.
Expect Wednesday’s second-quarter earnings conference call to be no different.
The actual numbers likely will be overshadowed as company executives answer questions about the most recent incidents involving Dreamliners, especially the July 12 fire in London. Boeing also could be grilled on 787-8 production, 787-9 progress and the 777X launch.
Ethiopian 787 fire
Aviation officials were scrambling Friday to determine appropriate steps for airlines to take after British investigators urged that 787 emergency locator transmitters be disabled. British investigators of the Heathrow incident seemingly have cleared the Dreamliner’s auxiliary power unit and lithium-ion batteries from causing the blaze. Yet questions linger:
How will Boeing repair the damaged 787?
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch in a Thursday report noted that the Ethiopian Airlines 787 sustained “extensive heat damage in the upper portion of the rear fuselage.” The 787 had “blackened and peeling paint and damage to the composite structure.” This is the first of Boeing’s mostly composite 787s to be damaged so extensively by fire.
“It’s not clear how you repair that,” said Robert Mann, an aviation consultant in Port Washington, N.Y. While fixing a traditional aluminum alloy fuselage is “relatively well understood, in composites, it’s not.” Other Dreamliner customers will be watching the incident closely, he said.
Are the emergency locator beacon’s batteries safe?
The batteries in the transmitter, supplied by Honeywell, are composed of lithium-manganese dioxide. The battery cells showed signs of disruption, the AAIB wrote in its report. Investigators emphasized the rarity of a thermal event but noted “had this event occurred in flight it could pose a significant safety concern.”
Boeing’s likely to face questions about the locator’s necessity and whether a different emergency beacon would be preferable.
Meantime, every minor mechanical difficulty attracts media attention. The latest example, involving a Japan Airlines flight from Boston to Tokyo last week, moved the company’s stock price briefly, even though the plane returned to Boston as a precaution because a maintenance message indicated a fuel pump problem.
How reliable is the 787 overall?
Boeing aims to reach a combined production pace of 10 787s monthly in Everett and North Charleston, S.C., by the end of 2013. Boeing maintains it’s on track to meet that goal. On Friday, Boeing supplier Rockwell Collins, which supplies 787 cockpit displays, concurred.
Doubts, however, were raised when a Boeing official told the Post and Courier newspaper that the South Carolina facility won’t reach the pace of three 787s monthly by year’s end. Boeing had said it ultimately planned for South Carolina to build three 787 monthly while Everett builds seven.
The North Charleston facility is producing 1.5 787s monthly and won’t hit the three-per-month pace until the first quarter of 2014, according to the Post and Courier report. Lori Gunter, a spokeswoman for Boeing, suggested that the expectation that South Carolina would be at three 787s monthly this year was off-base.
“If anyone was under the impression that Boeing South Carolina would be at three per month by the end of this year they didn’t understand what we’ve been saying about the surge line in Everett helping us to meet the program-level rate as the facility there comes up in rate,” Gunter wrote in an email to The Herald.
Gunter also gave a different target date for South Carolina reaching the three per month target: mid-2014.
Part of Boeing’s reason for setting up the temporary “surge” line in Everett was to give the jetmaker some extra capacity as it introduces a new derivative into production, the 787-9. Boeing began assembly of the first 787-9 in May in Everett and rolled that aircraft over to the paint hangar last week. With delivery of the first 787-9 in early 2014, Boeing plans to begin flight testing in the second half of 2013.
Boeing’s plans for an updated 777 jet have lawmakers in Washington on edge. The company could commit officially to the 777X program this year, perhaps at the Dubai Air Show in November. Where the company will assemble the jet and its composite wing is the question. Both Washington and South Carolina lawmakers recently took steps to try to woo Boeing.
Executives are likely to be asked about progress and air carrier interest in the plane.
Bloomberg News contributed to this report. Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org.