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From the start, Dreamliner jet program rushed

By Scott Mayerowitz

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2013 9:04 p.m. MST

The plan backfired as production problems quickly surfaced.

"I saw total chaos. Boeing bit off more than it could chew," said Larry Caracciolo, an engineer who spent three years managing 787 supplier quality.

First, there were problems with the molding of the new plastics. Then parts made by different suppliers didn't fit properly. For instance, the nose-and-cockpit section was out of alignment with the rest of the plane, leaving a 0.3-inch gap.

By giving up control of its supply chain, Boeing had lost the ability to oversee each step of production. Problems sometimes weren't discovered until the parts came together at its Everett, Wash., plant.

Fixes weren't easy, and cultures among the suppliers often clashed.

As the project fell further behind schedule, pressure mounted. It became increasingly clear that delivery deadlines wouldn't be met.

Each success, no matter how small, was celebrated. The first delivery of a new part or the government certification of an engine would lead to a gathering in one of the engineering building atriums.

The world got its first glimpse of the Dreamliner on July 8, 2007. The date was chosen not because of some production milestone but for public relations value. It was, after all, 7/8/7.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney told the crowd that the plane would fly within two months.

Instead, the company soon announced the first of what would be many delays. It would be more than two years before the plane's first test flight.

To overcome production problems, Boeing replaced executives and bought several of the suppliers to gain greater control. Work continued at breakneck pace.

Then on a cold, overcast morning in December 2009, it all came together.

A crowd gathered at Paine Field, the airport adjacent to Boeing's factory. The Dreamliner climbed deftly into the sky for a three-hour test flight.

But there were still plenty of glitches, including an onboard fire during a November 2010 test flight. The fleet was grounded for six weeks.

Deliveries were pushed back yet again.

Passengers wouldn't first step aboard the plane until Oct. 26, 2011, three and a half years after Boeing first promised.

That first, four-hour journey — from Tokyo to Hong Kong — was more of a party than a flight. Passengers posed for photos as they climbed stairs into the jet.

More airlines started to fly the plane. Each new route was met with celebration. Travelers shifted itineraries to catch a ride on the new plane.

Boeing had hoped by the end of 2013 to double production of the Dreamliner to 10 planes a month. There are 799 unfilled orders for the plane, which carries a $206.8 million list price, although airlines often negotiate deep discounts.

Then, this month, all the progress came to a jarring halt.

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