Boeing Co. is tackling the twin challenges of higher production and reliability of its 787 Dreamliner.
On Friday, the Chicago-based company announced it rolled out its first 787 built at the rate of 10 airplanes per month, the highest ever for a twin-aisle jet. Its goal is to increase production even higher in two years and again in five years.
At the same time Boeing touted its production success, a Boeing official at a press conference in Norway said the plane's reliability is not where it should be and the company is working to bring the rate up.
Mike Fleming, Boeing's vice president for 787 support and services, said the Dreamliner's reliability rate is now at 98 percent, meaning that two out of every 100 flights is delayed, which is above the 97 percent reported in October but still short of the firm's target, according to Reuters news agency.
Fleming was speaking in Oslo where Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, one of Boeing's most troubled customers, is based.
"I'll tell you that's not where we want the airplane to be. We're not satisfied with that reliability level of the airplane," Fleming said.
"The 777 today flies at 99.4 percent ... and that's the benchmark that the 787 needs to attain. We introduced the 777 in 1995 and it was in the 1999 timeframe that we saw sustained performance over 99 percent in that fleet ... To get the fleet above 99 percent you have to keep working every day, so my guess is that it will be similar to what we had with the 777," he added.
Norwegian Air Shuttle, the only European budget carrier to fly long haul, has been plagued by problems with its first three Dreamliners with a series of breakdowns last year leaving passengers stranded.
The Dreamliner has experienced numerous problems, including a battery fire that grounded all 787s in service for three months last year and forced Boeing to re-design the innovative lithium-ion battery and enclose it in a stainless steel containment box capable of withstanding an explosion. It also equipped the battery with a metal exhaust tube to vent fumes and gases outside the jet if the battery were to overheat.
Other issues on the Dreamliner still facing Boeing include the reliability of flight controls, particularly for the wing spoilers, brakes and electrical power components, Reuters reported.
As for its production goals, Boeing confirmed this week it is bringing in a "surge" of temporary contract workers in North Charleston to meet the company's higher 787 build-out demands. The number of temporary laborers could climb to nearly 1,000, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Some critics have bashed the North Charleston site as not ready to meet production goals, but aviation analysts Saj Ahmad with Strategic AeroReseach said the fledgling new plant is expected to experience hiccups.
"Its idiotic to assume Charleston could reach the competitive and productive efficiencies of Everett after just a couple of years," he said. "It is going to take time and Boeing is right to put resources in place to assist Boeing South Carolina's growth. As the 787 supply chain and production rate maturation takes charge, it will be Charleston, not Everett, that will be producing all three 787 variants."
The company plans to build 12 787s a month in 2016 and 14 per month by 2019.
Boeing assembles and delivers the 787-8 in North Charleston and Everett, Wash. The first plane built under the 10-a-month schedule rolled off the Everett line, Boeing spokeswoman Debbie Heathers said.
The airplane, a 787-8 and the 155th Dreamliner built, will be delivered to International Lease Finance Corp. for operation by Aeromexico.
The 787 program has now increased its production rate three times in just over a year, including to five airplanes per month in November 2012 and seven per month in May 2013.
"This rate increase reflects the continued strong demand for the 787," said Larry Loftis, vice president and general manager of the 787 program for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "A disciplined approach that combined employee teamwork with technology was key to achieving the higher rate."
To date, 115 787s have been delivered to 16 customers. The program has 1,030 total orders from 60 customers worldwide.
This airplane will be the fourth 787 operated by Aeromexico and will be used on the airline's Mexico City-to-London Heathrow route.
The finished 787 rolled into the assembly line in November, Boeing officials said during a press tour of the North Charleston facility in December.
The 787-9, a stretch version of the Dreamliner, is assembled in Everett, but starting this fall it will be produced in North Charleston as well.
A decision on the where the 787-10 will be produced is expected by March. Aviation analysts, including Ahmad, predict it will be in North Charleston, where the company recently leased nearly 500 acres of additional land for expansion near Charleston International Airport.
Documents show the flight line increasing to 16 stalls from seven for completed 787s and the main assembly building growing by about two-thirds. The company also plans to nearly triple its square footage of existing structures by adding 3.4 million square feet of manufacturing space and 400,000 square feet of administrative office space, starting in 2016. The actual location of those structures has not been determined.
Boeing currently has more than 2 million square feet of buildings on the main North Charleston campus near the airport.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
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