Supply chain problems keep Boeing parked on Paine Field runway

EVERETT — The Boeing Co. has informed officials at Paine Field that it needs to use the airport’s “crosswind” runway as a parking lot for a few months longer because of supply-chain problems.

Shortages of parts, especially luxury seats for 787 Dreamliners, are fouling Boeing’s production and delivery schedules, according to sources at the company. They spoke on the condition that they not be identified because they are not authorized to talk publicly about production issues.

Runway 11/29 has been closed since October 2010, when Boeing started parking early production 787 Dreamliners on it. The airplanes came out of the company’s Everett plant with many problems, requiring substantial rework.

Crosswind runways are used when wind changes from a prevailing direction.

Paine Field agreed to extend Boeing’s lease of the crosswind runway, but that means delaying its reopening likely until fall 2016, said Arif Ghouse, the airport’s director.

“They were on track and we were on track to have them vacate the runway by May of this year,” he said.

Earlier this year, the company approached the airport administration about extending the lease because of “supply and logistic issues,” he said.

Boeing declined to comment on why it needs more time.

High-end seats for first class cabins are still the main problem, said a Boeing employee on the 787 program.

Seat-supplier Zodiac Aerospace has struggled to keep up with demand as the world’s biggest airplane makers, Boeing and Airbus, ramp up production of twin-aisle airplanes.

Boeing has reduced the number of work crews on the flight line addressing behind-schedule jobs, the worker said.

But then last Wednesday, managers in the 787 program “came out and said, ‘OK, you’re all designated for 10-hour days and mandatory weekends,’ ” the worker said.

Despite the supply delays, Boeing still delivered 30 Dreamliners during the first three months of the year.

But Boeing has struggled to sell some early 787s, which are reportedly much heavier than they should be. The company has made some progress recently in delivering the airplanes. Two have been donated to museums, one went to Korean Air last month and another was delivered last year to become the Mexican presidential aircraft.

Still, at one point last week seven early build Dreamliners were on the runway. As Boeing delivers more of those airplanes and straightens out the current supply-chain problems, it won’t need as much parking space at Paine Field.

“They’ve told us they foresee a smaller footprint,” Ghouse said.

The weight of the airplanes parked there for so long has warped the runway, which needs a new overlay as a result, Ghouse said.

The airport also plans to shorten the runway, which is oriented roughly northwest to southeast, so that it does not intersect with Paine Field’s two north-south runways. That will reduce the likelihood of collisions.

Currently, runway 11/29 melts into the taxiway for the airport’s longest runway, 16R/34L, in an area that Paine Field regulars call “the sea of asphalt.”

It is a sprawling area with multiple entries and exits that pilots can take. That could create confusion, causing a pilot to take a wrong turn and collide with another aircraft.

Boeing will reimburse the airport for the new overlay, and the Federal Aviation Administration will help pay for shortening the crosswind runway, Ghouse said.

He declined to estimate the total cost for the projects, which have not gone out to bid.

Boeing indicated to the airport that it expects to be off runway 11/29 in four to eight months, he said.

Construction could then start in the spring of 2016, with the runway reopening the following fall, Ghouse said.

When it reopens, it will have a new designation as runway 12/30. The numbers at the ends of runways represent compass headings. They have to be periodically changed to account for magnetic north’s nomadic nature.

After being closed for more than four years, does Paine Field need a crosswind runway?

“That’s a debatable question,” Ghouse said. “You’re not going to get a clear yes or no.”

The runway would be used almost solely by pilots flying small, single-engine airplanes that can flip in a strong crosswind. “It comes down to pilot discretion,” he said.

It only takes a moderate breeze to cause problems for light planes, said Dave Wheeler, president of the Washington Pilot Association’s Paine Field chapter.

“In the afternoon, the wind is out of the west predominantly. It’s very important for those lightweight airplanes,” he said.

Wheeler has amassed more than 11,000 flying hours and has been flying out of Paine Field since 1976.

Trying to land under those conditions can be like trying to push a stick across a river, he said.

“That water is trying to push you off course.” But, he said, the number of pilots flying such small planes at Paine Field is probably low.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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