787 First Flight delay perspective

Update, June 25:

In the myriad of stories about the new 787 delay is this nugget from an Australian reporter: “The 787-8 is currently around 7.5 tonnes overweight and showing a burn of around 4% more fuel than necessary to meet the performance that Qantas thought it was buying.”

Update, 2:50 PM PDT:

  • The delay will be a minimum of 2-3 months.
  • The weak points are where the wing box attaches to the fuselage.
  • Delamination occurred during the static tests.
  • Morgan Stanley now predicts entry-into-service in 2011, slipping from March 2010.
  • Boeing stock was off ~7% or ~$2.5bn.
  • The impact on suppliers remains uncertain.
  • From 6 AM PDT to this update, 1,200 stories appeared on Google News about this delay.
  • Today the GAO said the Pentagon should reconsider the Boeing-Bell V-22 program because of poor performance, reliability and excessive costs during the time the tilt-rotor has been on duty in Iraq.
  • We learned that the roll-out of the 747-8F has shifted from September to November.

The Wall Street Journal has this humorous lead to its story:

Hold the sake? Boeing Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. managers last week marked a “week of 787 Dreamliner Milestones” by smashing open a ceremonial barrel of the rice spirit.

The hangover set in on Tuesday.

Original Post:

The first flight of the 787 is delayed by several weeks, Boeing announced this morning. The full press release is published in a separate post below. Here is the key part of the press release:

Boeing today announced that first flight of the 787 Dreamliner will be postponed due to a need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft.

The need was identified during the recent regularly scheduled tests on the full-scale static test airplane. Preliminary analysis indicated that flight test could proceed this month as planned. However, after further testing and consideration of possible modified flight test plans, the decision was made late last week that first flight should instead be postponed until productive flight testing could occur.

First flight and first delivery will be rescheduled following the final determination of the required modification and testing plan. It will be several weeks before the new schedule is available. The 787 team will continue with other aspects of testing on Airplane #1, including final gauntlet testing and low-speed taxiing. Work will also continue on the other five flight test aircraft and the subsequent aircraft in the production system.

We were told several months ago that testing had revealed a weakness in the wing-to-body join. The Boeing statement above refers to the need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft, without specifically identifying the location.

Update: Boeing just confirmed to us that it is a wing-to-body joint.

We were also told at that time that flight testing could proceed, but that it would have to employ techniques that would have lower stress and G forces than normal flight testing would require. The Boeing statement suggests that this information was correct.

A webcast at 10 AM EDT should clear up a  number of details.

With a delay of several weeks, EIS now easily slips into 2Q10 and perhaps later.

At the Paris Air Show, Pat Shanahan, Boeing’s VP of Product & Services and former head of the 787 program, acknowledged that there was no margin remaining in the flight test program (ie, no buffers in the timeline).

The press release says the decision to postpone first flight was made late last week–this was just days after Shanahan’s appearance at the Air Show.

An aerospace engineer tells us it is not uncommon to find such issues, although it is uncommon to find it on the ground-usually this is discovered during flight tests.

Boeing stock is off $3 on the news by 10 AM EDT at the start of the webcast.

We’ll add more to this after the Boeing webcast.

From the webcast:

Scott Carson, BCA president, Shanahan and Scott Fancher, head of the 787 program, are on the call. These will be IDd as SC, PS and SF.

  • SC: We need to reinforce a limited area of the side body of the airplane. Team is satisfied for fully productive flight testing. This development is a disappointment. Limited and localized reinforcement is quite manageable.
  • PS: Late last month during static testing involving bending the wings. During one test the stress issue was identified. Last week analysis concluded that flight tests should be postponed. Made very clear this is limited and composites remain correct choice.
  • SF: We are already moving toward a solution. Technical experts have IDd several solutions and determining which one is best, to be followed by testing and installation, followed by flight testing program. Will determine new first flight schedule and flight test program in next several weeks. Will continue other testing, including taxi tests, in the meantime. All flight test airplanes will be kept in flight-ready condition.
  • SC: Fundamental technology is sound.

From Q&A segment:

  • How invasive is this fix? SF: The area in question is a series of relative small areas in side-of-body joins. Fixes can be installed in aircraft already assembled and in production. Do not see much weight added but little impact to airplane performance.
  • How will this affect EIS? SC: We don’t have a new timeline. As we delay the flight test program so there will be some impact but no assessment on impact yet.
  • How good are the design models? Had previous wingbox problem. PS: our models are very good, have the ability to predict structure and performance. We’ll go back and see where the model failed to predict this and fix the model. SF: We do testing for a reason and that’s because models aren’t perfect. When this occurs, you stand back to find out why and go forward. In airplane development it is very common for static testing to occur in parallel to flight testing. The timing is unfortunate. (Editor’s note: see our aerospace engineer comment above.)
  • (Editor’s note: We just received an email that customers learned of this about a month ago.)
  • SF: There is nothing about this issue that prevents Boeing from proceeding with continued gauntlet and taxing testing. Once the modification is identified, the aircraft will return to the hangar for modification, followed by first flight. Subsequent test planes will proceed as planned and be modified when ready.
  • SF: The stress areas are one or two inches in multiple locations along the wing-to-body join. It is not uncommon for ground or flight test programs to cause the design team to take pause. If we had found this a couple of months ago, we wouldn’t have a delay. (Editor’s note: This, then, suggests this is a different if similar problem to the one we heard several months ago described above, although everything we’re hearing in the conference call is consistent with what we heard months ago.)
  • Unidentified: This is an attachment point between the wing and the rest of the body.
  • SF: This is not something that has to be incorporated in the autoclave process. These are parts you can hold in your hand.
  • SC: We discovered this in a test condition several weeks ago. To fly the airplane would have such a limited envelope on it that it would not be productive to proceed.
  • PS: This involves multiple structures from wings from Mitsubishi, and side body by Fuji and Boeing designs. It is both sides and it is symetric. SF: It is limited to the upper portion of where the wing and body join in 18 locations on each side. I really want to emphasis we are talking about a one or two square inch area in multiple locations. It does not extend out into the wings or into the body of the aircraft. The parts to fix this are about the size of your hand or smaller.
  • Question about credibility. You knew about this late last month, why wait to now? SC: When we were at Paris last week we had preliminary analysis and thought we had a credible flight envelope. Further analysis narrowed the flight envelope to the extent that it would not be useful to fly. We wanted to install the fix to have a robust flight test program.
  • What about the dollar outcome? Hundreds of millions or a few million? SC: It’s premature to forecast the cost. The fix itself doesn’t appear to be a big dollar item but the impact of program delay remains to be assessed. We don’t know if it will be a day-for-day delay. (Editor’s note: See Shanahan Air Show comments above.)
  • Customer reaction? SC: Began process late last night. All of them respected the process. They are interested in the final delivered product.
  • SC: Not anticipating suspending production. Design solutions can be retrofitted in a complete airplane. Fix can be installed during production. Will have to install and retest in static test airplane, analyze results and install in production airplanes.
  • SF: Modification is relatively simple and first aircraft mod can be done on the field, it doesn’t have to go back to factory. No change in schedule but may re-sequence existing work.
  • Any impact on certification process? PS: Part of our focus on staying in process is to continue certification process and we see nothing here to compromise getting the airplane certified.
  • PS: Fairly well known that test aircraft are heavier than production aircraft; this is small weight gain, won’t impact production airplanes which have weight reduction program already.

Our take:

Clearly delaying the first flight is the right decision. The indefinite delay raises more questions about Boeing’s credibility and creates more uncertainty for customers.

Stock is off $3.82 at the conclusion of the call.


13 comments on “787 First Flight delay perspective

  1. “(Editor’s note: We just received an email that customers learned of this about a month ago.)”

    You are kidding right?

    They let the stock balloon up to 54 knowing of this? And keeping it under wraps?

    Probably not criminal, but it ought to be.

    Meanwhile, I have little confidence in the assesment of the difficulty of the repair. The statement from the executives in question holds no water with me. Not with the stock now headed for a loss of at least 4 bucks a share today.

    “Engineer” cannot know either unless he knows the structure and composites very well, and the join at the center wing box/fuselage would seem to be a very nasty spot to effect modification on a fully assembled aircraft.

    No new timeline? LOL, who cares anymore?

  2. I find Boeing press conferences are like consulting the Oracle of Delphi: What do they mean by that?

    The key sentence is probably this one (from press statement – see leehamnet’s previous post):

    “Consideration was given to a temporary solution that would allow us to fly as scheduled, but we ultimately concluded that the right thing was to develop, design, test and incorporate a permanent modification to the localized area requiring reinforcement.”

    I interpret this to mean:

    “We knew we had a problem (which, of course, we didn’t make public). We tried a quick fix that didn’t work. We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do next as we didn’t have a Plan B…”

  3. Wingbox modification is a different issue. this is a joint (actually 36 joints) that are a part of the attachment of the wing to the fuse.
    The wingbox was redesigned a long time ago. One does not wait until fist flight to redesign something that has been revealed to the public a year in the past. Not even this new Boeing we are now dealing with.

    Carson quote, “Consideration was given to a temporary solution that would allow us to fly as scheduled”. Sounds to me like it was not ready to fly without some sort of repair and that this contemplated “quick” repair would only allow a limited flight envelope. Long story short, there was no way it was flying at the end of this month and had they gone for the “quick” repair, they would have had to ground it shortly thereafter to do the “proper” rework.

    Another example of Boeing double talk: At one point, Fancher was trying to explain the discovery of the problem on the static rig. He mentioned the loads on the strain gages did not meet their predicitions and on inspection of the rig, found a number of things indicative of what the strain gages were saying (but did not answer the question of whether they saw delamination!). At another point he was discussing the strain gages and started talking on “increased” loads on them and corrected himself to “inconsistent” (not that increased loads is a surprise).

    Static and flight testing are done in parallell and this is common. Yes it is but basic things like the wing to fuse joint is checked pretty well at the beginning and is a mandatory test before first flight. Show me another airplane program that had a showstopping structural change less than a week before first flight. One of them even said, if we had found this problem a couple of months ago, we wouldn’t be having this discussion today. They did find it a couple of months ago.!!!!

    I can’t wait for the sketch that they are “looking into” supplying.

    They are not being open (no they don’t have to be but then people should stop claiming that they are being open and up front) and I am sure there will be more problems.

    One last issue, I would certainly hope that they don’t take unnecessary risks on this program. That is expected. I do not understand why they are being praised for doing something that is expected of them. That said, it speaks volumes on their knowledge/skill base as well as their grasp of this program, which seems to be close to nonexistant in my opinion.

  4. In the UK Financial Times I found the following description of the problem:
    “The unexpected stresses in the structure (which led to delamination) had been found in 36 places, 18 on each side of the aircraft, at the join of the wing to the body, each in areas of one to two square inches”.

    If I remember it right, this corresponds exactly to the number of bolts which are attaching the wings to the body of the 787. Some months ago, there was a problem reported with a “wrong type of bolts” at the wing joints which made a replacement of those bolts necessary.
    IF the two reports (delamination and wrong bolts) are connected, there will be NO easy solution to the problem.
    This very likely would indicate a grave construction fault requiring extensive redesign.
    It would also add to the weight problem (and thus the fuel efficiency) of the 787, as the required reinforcements to the structure might heavily add to the dead weight of the aircraft.

  5. Boeing had invested its credibility in getting the first plane to fly and being seen to have its “arms around the program”. For purely symbolic reasons, I am convinced they would have taken off, if they could. Flight testing and modifications can come later. I simply don’t believe Scott Carson when he says that testing would be on “such a limited envelope on it that it would not be productive to proceed” to first flight.

    Presumably, they genuinely thought they would be able to take off, but found that either the fix wouldn’t work, it was more serious than they thought, or someone overruled them on safety grounds.

    Either way, this was a dreadful bit of news management from Boeing: they downplayed the seriousness of the issue, didn’t admit to their mistake in assuming flight was possible, and didn’t articulate a route to recovery. Carson, Shanahan and Flancher could take some PR lessons from their colleague, Randy Tinseth, who does it much better in his blog:

    boeingblogs.com/randy

  6. I guess this is what (euphemistically) referred to as a “bad news day”? ;-)

    I would not be surprised to see cancellations, but not knowing the details of the contracts, I’ll with hold comment.

    As for the V-22, any opponents will be dealing with the absolutely strongest lobby on the Hill. I am not referring to Boeing, Bell, AIPAC, but the U.S. Marine Corps. If Robert Gates takes aim at that program, he’ll find that terminating the F-22 is a walk in the park by comparison.

  7. Overlooked also was the fact that Boeing’s Sea Launch also went belly up yesterday.

    Ch11, but Sea Launch may be the only recent example of superb execution of a bad idea. Like Connexion, is was doomed from the start.

    Nevertheless, I have had time now to mull over the financial implications of the 787 failure.

    1. There will be yet another charge against earnings. Threis no way the costs of the program can be maintained integral to the normal revenue stream.

    2. It is highly unlikely that the 787 will ever meet it’s weight goals, and performance specifications are likely to suffer, resulting in penalties payable to customers.

    3. Further, customers early in the que have a stronger case than ever before to bail out without cancellation charges, and I have no doubt some will be chatting up Airbus in short order.

    4. The case for a second line elsewhere is weaker now, if for no other reason that the astronomical costs involved look entirely prohibitive given what it’s going to take to get 787 into high rate serial production

    5. Partner suppliers are going to start hurting, and be reluctant to expend monies on tooling, facilities, and personel to extend production beyond 10/month.

    6. The length of time to the ten per month rate will be stretched out, further eroding profit via losses due to underutilized factory space and personel.

    7. Factory production will be disrupted and factory and engineering personel are diverted to retrofit existing aircraft/sections.

    8. Major partners producing sections will be stalled as they wait for an integrated, final engineering solution to be implemented (unless Boeing is stupid enough to simply make the retrofit repair standard).

    9. Profits at each and every parts vendor will suffer, and some of the less healthy ones may be in deep trouble. Top that off with cynicism about Boeing’s timelines, and the vendors simply will not put up the cash outlays up front for tools, equipment, and people unless they are absolutly sure. Which means they are going to wait, probably a little to long, and cause parts shortages during the attempted ramp up.

    10.The current levels of expenditure with no profits in sight on 787 may be sustainable.

    Perhaps.

    It will however, significantly impede Boeing’s ability to refresh or replace 777 and 737.

    Look, There is now ample evidence that Boeing’s top leadership KNEW of this defect a month or more ago. It’s pretty easy to conclude that every word uttered about first flight in Paris was a cacluated lie.

    Further, the defect, being known, has had a number of weeks of engineering review by now. Yet no fix is pending, and Boeing speaks of several more weeks to develop a solution. So we are talking, perhaps, a minimum of two months to design a fix for a supposedly minor flaw?

    Quite simply, Boeing is NOT being candid or truthful about the extent of the defect. It has to be dramatically more serious that they are letting on. It simply does not take three months
    to design and install some doublers or stiffeners.
    Meanwhile, One has to assume static load testing has halted, and that aircraft currently in various build stages will only be taken to a degree of partial assembly, rather than factory complete with ramp installation of the fix.

    The only question that remains is:

    Will there be accountabilty for this failure? Not likely.

  8. More good news:

    Future combat systems was cancelled today.

    I sold half of my BA holdings today, at a terrible loss, something I have never done before. But I just can no longer see over the horizon for this company. The board, the CEO, and the Commercial division leadership have all lost control of the business. This is not a market driven decline. This is utter and complete failure to manage and direct. And I do not see any sort of graceful recovery short, mid, or even long term with this motly of goofballs running the show.

  9. Well the good news is that this…. fine management team “works well with people” and are great team players,,,,,just go back and read the management bulletins as they were promoted over and over.They dont cuss,yell at people or kick over chairs in meetings like their babbaric predecessors(Buckley,Sutter, Nible etc)…You just have to expect a little deterioration in performance on the 787 Nightmare Liner!!!!

  10. Some customers may switch over to Airbus but one must keep in mind tht their performance in the last couple of programs has also been somewhat less than stellar.

    Not to mention that they are still about 2 years behind Boeing, assuming they stay on time.

    Plus I believe the A350-900 is larger than the 787-8 and the -800 is coming out a year after the -900. (Not 100% sure on all of this).

    Big questions remain on weight for both companies, as well as how the customization process flows (one item that has sorely dogged the A380 and from which Airbus is only now slowly sorting itself out on).

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