Boeing has backup for 1st flight

EVERETT – The Dreamliner jet that the Boeing Co. revealed to the world in July might not be the first 787 to fly.

As a backup plan to ensure Boeing delivers the first 787 on time next May, the company is keeping an eye on its second Dreamliner after pushing back first flight by three to four months.

The jet maker has struggled to put together its first 787, stemming from incomplete parts shipped by Boeing suppliers. Major assemblies for the second 787, set to show up in October, should arrive relatively complete.

“Right now the primary plan is to fly the first Dreamliner,” said Lori Gunter, spokeswoman for Boeing’s 787 program.

To do so, workers in Everett need to sort out temporary pieces such as clips from permanent ones -a task made more difficult by the sometimes poor documentation provided by Boeing’s partners.

Earlier this month, Boeing’s Mike Bair, who leads the 787 program, announced that the Dreamliner won’t fly until mid-November to mid-December. The company initially planned the 787’s first flight for late August. Over the summer, the milestone slipped into the September-to-October time frame.

Bair noted that Boeing faces two challenges in getting its Dreamliner in the air. The software for the 787’s flight controls still lacks some coding – an issue Boeing is working through with supplier Honeywell.

Secondly, Bair said, a global fastener shortage forced Boeing’s partners to send large structures with temporary pieces installed. Boeing is relying on a worldwide chain of suppliers to build major 787 assemblies.

Ultimately, those partners will be expected to send their pieces stuffed with wiring and ready to be snapped together in Everett. Workers here ultimately will be able to turn out one Dreamliner every three days.

Boeing rolled out its first 787 in Everett on July 8 in a ceremony broadcast around the world. At the time, officials acknowledged that they still had work to do on the jet – including wiring installation – before it could fly.

During an update meeting this month, Bair said that Boeing workers had to locate and replace thousands of temporary fasteners. Not all of Boeing’s partners methodically documented the temporary fasteners.

“It’s not really a failure in the process … it’s just a complicated puzzle,” Bair said.

As a result of pushing back first flight, Boeing has shuffled around delivery dates from suppliers for follow on aircraft parts. The change gives Boeing’s global partners more time to fit major assemblies with permanent fasteners and wiring. Theoretically, putting together the second aircraft, with its completed pieces, should take less time than building the first Dreamliner.

Bair and Boeing’s chief executive Jim McNerney both admit the company now has little room for error during flight testing if Boeing intends to hand over the first Dreamliner to Japan’s All Nippon Airways in May 2008. The first flight kicks off the flight test program, which proves to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that the plane is safe to fly. Prior to the flight delay, Boeing already had an aggressive flight test program. “Is there room for major glitches at this point?” McNerney said, while speaking at the Morgan Stanley conference last week. “No.”

The sooner Boeing can get a Dreamliner in flight, the more time the plane maker will have to react to problems. That’s why Dreamliner No. 2 could get the first shot to fly.

Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or

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