Manufacturing juggernaut Boeing is currently producing its 787 ‘Dreamliner’ family at a lower rate than normal. The challenges of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have not been the only factor in this. Indeed, several safety issues have also hindered the type’s production of late. However, the skies appear to be clearing for the Dreamliner. Specifically, Boeing’s CEO recently announced intentions to return to full pre-pandemic production rates.
Return to 14 new 787s every month
Last month, Boeing quietly surpassed the milestone of its 1000th 787 Dreamliner delivery. However, this number isn’t set to climb with any particular haste for the time being, as circumstances have forced the company to lower its production rate to just five aircraft a month. Nonetheless, the company has high hopes for its 787 output going forward.
Specifically, AeroTime reports that the plane-making heavyweight intends for its production rate to ramp back up to the 14 aircraft a month that it was achieving pre-pandemic. Although he did not give a timeline, the company’s CEO, Dave Calhoun, confirmed these intentions speaking yesterday at the Bernstein virtual conference. He stated that:
“We will get back to the rates that we used to be at. We believe in that airplane. (…) You don’t go from five to that number overnight. You get there in increments. We have plenty of cycle time to stage those increments appropriately, reconfigure the flow of airplanes through the factories such that we can accommodate those rates.”
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Multiple pauses to 787 deliveries
One aspect that has particularly hampered Boeing’s efforts to ramp up 787 production is that it has had to pause deliveries of the aircraft multiple times. Indeed, the company recently endured a five-month spell in which it could not deliver any of the aircraft at all.
The dry spell began last October, and deliveries finally resumed in March 2021. This period saw examples of the aircraft be subjected to safety-based airworthiness directives. One such recommendation from the FAA affected 222 of the jets in February.
More recently, Boeing looked set to instigate a second delivery pause last week. This came about following reports that the FAA required further information regarding a production issue. Specifically, this pertained to the aircraft’s skin flatness tolerance. Calhoun said yesterday that Boeing is “working with the FAA to alter some of [its] production control systems.”
A recent shift in production locations
Boeing recently consolidated the production of its 787s to its factory in North Charleston, South Carolina. Previously, it had also built the next-generation widebodies at its huge facility in Everett, Washington. This is the world’s largest building by volume. However, the final 787 to have been put together there rolled off the factory line in February.
This aircraft, a mid-sized 787-9, then took its first flight the following month. Its destination is ANA, an airline that has always been a loyal 787 customer. Since this aircraft, all new Dreamliners have been, and will continue to be produced at the North Charleston facility.
Overall, it will certainly be interesting to see how soon the consolidated 787 production in North Charleston can return to the target of 14 planes a month. Boeing delivered 53 787s in 2020, per AeroTime. In any case, Calhoun remains confident that “nothing has changed in respect to [Boeing’s] determinations that were made with deliveries of the airplanes.”
What do you make of Boeing’s ambitions for its 787 production rates to return to pre-pandemic levels? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.