Boeing struggles with fresh 787 delays

Boeing recently announced its seventh delay to the 787 Dreamliner programme as the fleet of uncompleted aircraft at its Everett production site grows

1st Oct 2010


What do Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Seattle, and London have in common? Among other things, the cities are all hosting Boeing 787 Dreamliner "training suites".

Continuing delays to production, flight-testing, and certification of the new aircraft – Boeing disclosed the seventh hold-up in late August (see box) – have given Boeing Training & Flight Services extra time to make sure it is completely ready to meet demand as deliveries get under way next year.

By September, almost 150 Boeing instructor pilots had been trained. At the same time, the first five 787test aircraft, two of which will eventually be delivered to customers, had flown more than 1,875 hours in just over 600 test flights.

Launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) aims to operate its first 787 domestic commercial services a month after the first delivery (whenever that might be), making time to familiarise pilots with the new aircraft before introducing international flights up to three months later. The Japanese airline has said simply that the latest delay in 787 development is "regrettable".

In August, Boeing received provisional US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval for its 787 pilot-training courses and was awaiting similar recognition for the equipment used – including full-flight simulators, flight-training devices, and desktop "simulation stations" – after which formal pilot training will start.

Course approval is an "important step in ensuring readiness of 787 support products and services", says Boeing Commercial Airplanes 787 services and support director Mike Fleming. Some initial tuition may be started under the provisional training approvals.

Parked aircraft

As the stock of instructor pilots has grown, so has the number of 787s awaiting completion. In mid-September almost 30 positions on Boeing's flight line at the Everett factory near Seattle were occupied by 787s, with more on the way. The additional machines were expected to be parked on Paine Field’s new ramp near the ‘Future of Flight’ centre.

But one aircraft that Boeing had not counted on parking, as the manufacturer struggles to build up flight-test hours towards certification, was the first airframe, ZA001. On 10 September, the aircraft suffered a surge in one of its two Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines while preparing to take off at Roswell Airport, New Mexico, where Boeing was conducting ‘Block 1’ rejected-takeoff, brake-demonstration certification and control-and-stability testing. (Previously, in February, a precautionary landing had followed an uncommanded power loss in one engine, caused by problems with a pressure sensor.)

While ZA001 was grounded for an engine change, Boeing officials were determining whether the event might aggravate the heavy delays in development of the 787, which was originally scheduled to be delivered to ANA in May 2008. As Asian Aviation went to press, Boeing had not confirmed whether it could stick to the revised schedule announced in August, for first delivery in the middle of 2011's first quarter.

Several factors, including required airframe inspections, work on the 787 tailplane, and the lack of a production engine for the No 9 airframe (which will be used for extended operational testing), contributed to the latest official delay.

Additionally, on 2 August, Rolls-Royce had suffered an uncontained failure involving a ‘Package A’-standard Trent 1000 destined to power 787 No 9. Unofficial reports suggest an oil fire had developed in the engine during high-power runs, softening the intermediate pressure (IP) shaft. A consequent shaft failure is understood to have permitted the IP turbine (IPT) to over-speed and disintegrate. Shed parts punctured the engine casing, damaging test equipment.

‘Package A’ engines, which introduce changes aimed at reducing a reported 4-5 percent shortfall in targeted specific fuel consumption, power the first four aircraft. Airframe ZA004 is expected to receive an improved Trent 1000 ‘Package B’ model, incorporating further improvements developed during the 787's 32-month (and counting) production delay and designed to get within 1 percent of fuel-burn targets.

Engine enhancements

This latest variant, which entered flight-testing last March, sports enhanced low- pressure (LP) turbine aerodynamics, better IPT cooling, and secondary air system changes to tap sealing and cooling air at a lower pressure stage. Fan-blade twist has been modified to suit pressure-ratio changes arising from a reduction in nozzle area.

In September, Boeing was conducting a second round of 787 tailplane inspections, which had begun with the discovery of poor workmanship by Italian programme partner Alenia. Ironically, this has proved a blessing in disguise: a planned tailplane weight-reduction exercise for the stretched 787-9 may now be accompanied by the introduction of hybrid laminar-flow control (HLFC). This system draws in boundary-layer air through small perforations in the tailplane and tailfin leading edges to reduce drag by delaying the onset of turbulent flow.

In September, the 787 flight-test programme remained busy, according to 787 programme vice-president and general manager Scott Fancher. "We continue to be very pleased with the performance of the airplane. We're definitely putting it through its paces, subjecting it to the harshest environments and conditions to ensure it is ready for revenue service."

Despite this busy schedule, the manufacturer has remained silent about when formal airworthiness approval might be received – a topic on which it had been reticent at Farnborough in July. During the show, Boeing had declined to suggest a likely certification date for the troubled project. Vice-president and 787 chief project engineer Mike Sinnett would not discuss Boeing's latest estimates for the timing of FAA approval.

Ahead of the announcement of the seventh delay, Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Jim Albaugh conceded at Farnborough that the company “probably” contracted too much work to partners before then mismanaging its outsource suppliers: “We lost control and, in future, I believe we will outsource less”.

Test flying the 787 remotely

In early September, Boeing outlined the programme of remote tests being undertaken by the five flying 787s.


ZA001


After several weeks of take-off and landing-performance test-flights from Edwards Air Force Base in southern California, the first 787 (ZA001) had transferred to Roswell Airport in New Mexico, a location it had used during August for wet-runway trials and where further work would include rejected-takeoff operations.

ZA002


The second 787 was carrying out high-latitude and cold-weather trials at Keflavik Airport in Iceland. Boeing had been "watching for the right weather conditions for some time", according to 787 Programme Vice-President and General Manager Scott Fancher. "The team was happy to see the forecast in Iceland met our needs."

ZA003


Deployed to Arizona for more than a week of high-temperature testing, the third 787 was exposed to temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) when it flew into Yuma.

ZA004


The fourth aircraft has spent an extended time this year flying from Victorville in southern California, where it was used to conduct flight-loads survey trials. These tests measure the external pressure distributions on the 787 throughout the flight envelope. This work was followed by further testing in Glasgow, Montana.

ZA005


Boeing's Seattle base was the venue for ZA005, which was being used in September for ice-shape testing. To verify aircraft performance when the airframe is subject to ice, artificial ice shapes were attached to the fifth aircraft's wing leading edges and those of the tailfin and tailplane. The 787 had previously been tested in conditions of natural icing.

The Dreamliner's development nightmares

Doubts about the ambitious flight-test programme, which gave Boeing nine months at most to certificate the 787, had arisen among industry analysts well before the original scheduled first flight date.

At major international shows, Boeing found itself facing detailed questions. During the 2007 Paris air show, then-Programme Manager Mike Bair insisted that the company's aspirations were not too high.

Citing Boeing's experience in having successfully re-worked certification schedules for the 747Large Cargo Freighter (developed to deliver large 787 sub-assemblies from partner companies), Bair claimed that the company had ways of "working around" any obstacles that might arise. But within weeks, the manufacturer acknowledged that at the July roll-out ceremony the first aircraft had been incomplete, because of a shortage of fasteners and other problems.

Two years later, at the June 2009 Paris show, expectations remained that the first flight would take place by the end of the month (the last possible date to meet Boeing's schedule at the time). Then, days after the show closed, came the formal announcement that static testing had revealed a need for structural reinforcement in the “side-of-body” area.


The following key points are taken from a 787-programme timeline compiled by Reuters:


June 2007 – Boeing said first test flight (scheduled for late August) might slip to September , using up the one-month "window" the company had set that would still allow for May first delivery.


27 July 2007 – Less than three weeks after roll-out of the first aircraft, Boeing said the aircraft was running slightly behind in some areas but the manufacturer held to the schedule.


September 2007 – Boeing delayed first flight by about three months to mid-November/mid-December because of fastener shortages and flight-control software considerations. The original May 2008 delivery target was still retained.


October 2007 – Boeing revealed a longer delay, to late March 2008, citing production problems. The company pushed back first delivery by about six months.


January 2008 – A further three-month delay, attributed to supply and assembly problems, then delayed the maiden flight to late June, with first delivery now forecast for early 2009 (about nine months late).


April 2008 – Boeing re-scheduled first flight to the last three months of 2008, and first delivery to 2009's third quarter.


November 2008 – Boeing said first flight had been delayed into 2009 by the 58-day production workers' strike.


December 2008 – First flight was re-set for April-June 2009, with delivery foreseen in first quarter of 2010.


August 2009 – Boeing re-scheduled the first flight to the end of 2009, with first delivery during October-December 2010.


December 15, 2009 – First flight of the 787.


August 2010 – Boeing delayed first delivery to the middle of the first quarter of 2011.
 

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