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Boeing's New 787 Problem: Making Enough Planes


The situation for the technologically groundbreaking plane is transitioning from ‘Will it work?’ to ‘When will I get mine?’

Much of the news carried by various outlets in the past month has focused on the production ramp-up problems that Boeing is experiencing with the 787 Dreamliner.

The Charleston (SC) Post and Courier (Wise) reported that following news of “production problems” at Boeing’s North Charleston plant, “hundreds of temporary workers” have been added and now the plant should produce three Dreamliners a month “by midyear.”

The article quoted aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group as saying that Boeing tried to cut costs by letting go experienced contractors and that did not work out. The article also quoted Saj Ahmad of StrategicAeroResearch as believing the new hires were a good decision because Boeing would pay more later if it had to slow production. In addition, the article also noted that “Unidentified Boeing workers in Washington state … complained in a widely read Seattle Times story of extra work being sent their way from North Charleston. The report cited missing cables and unconnected wires among a host of other unfinished items on 787 Dreamliner fuselages sent to the Puget Sound area for completion.”

Boeing 787

According to the Seattle Times (Gates) “…a big backlog has built up. Last week, the mid-fuselage build teams were just shy of 8,000 jobs behind schedule. At recent rates, that’s about 10 days of work.” Boeing Charleston mechanics build the mid-fuselage and rear-fuselage sections of all 787s, according to the article. They also do final assembly of some 787s. The site employs just over 8,000, including contractors.

Reuters (2/10, Scott, McLeod) also reported on the work backlog. The news service noted that the backlog comes as the FAA has opened an audit of Boeing factories. The FAA has said that the audit was regularly scheduled and did not offer further comment. Boeing also said the audit was routine and is performed every two years at multiple facilities. Meanwhile, problems with wiring bundles caught the attention of FAA inspectors, who issued at least one “letter of investigation” on the matter, according to a senior Boeing employee.

One approach to spur improvements at the Charleston plant is to offer a bonus, the Seattle Times noted in its report. The one-time bonus is 8% of a year’s salary, according to the article.

In related news, Bloomberg News (Johnsson) reported Boeing is having some difficulties selling its very first 787s. According to Bloomberg, Boeing is “struggling to find buyers for 11 of its earliest 787 Dreamliners, valued at $1.1 billion, after two airlines dropped orders for the holdover models from the jet’s troubled birth, people briefed on the plans said.” The article noted that these planes have received “the most work among the more than 60 early Dreamliners that required post-assembly modifications,” causing some airlines to drop them in favor of newer 787s that did not need the work.

The article stated these early Dreamliners are known as the “terrible teens,” named after their assembly-line order. The teens weigh more than other 787s due to custom-fitted reinforcements

According to the article, over time Boeing should be able to sell the planes “barring a global aerospace slump.”


Edited by Contributing Editor Bruce Morey

Published Date : 3/3/2014

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