Branded as the “Dreamliner”, Boeing 787 was said to be the next radicle step in commercial passenger jets. Different from all the previous commercial jets, Boeing 787 featured larger windows and a fuselage entirely made out carbon fiber. Further, the improved cabin humidification made the jet unique. There are just but a few technological advents integrated in the new commercial jet. However, according to Wagner and Norris (2009), the program ran several years behind the scheduled time. It was supposed to run in 2006 but due to some complications, the first flight by the jet was made in 2009 with the first delivery being at All Nippon Airways, which is the second largest airline in Japan. This delivery was made in 2011.
A plethora of research studies has been conducted in an effort towards explaining why the program did not run as scheduled. Most researchers have explained this by attempting to compare the construction processes and work sharing used on Boeing 787 and Boeing 777 programs. This comparison has been essential as it has clearly depicted the discrepancies with the new program leading to the delay in its unveiling to airlines. In the same context, the purpose of this paper is to review the comparisons between these two programs as it has been advanced in research studies and thereby explain why Boeing 787 was behind schedule.
Different from its traditional basic assembly approach used to produce all other jets including Boeing 777, Boeing 787 assembly approach was entirely different. Considering Boeing 777, individual parts and assembly was done in Everest, Washington. However, with Boeing 787, this changed and the company decided to assign subcontractors to perform more assembly work themselves and delivered a complete subsystem to the company. The final assembly was then to be done within the company premises. While this was advantageous in that a learner, as well as, a simpler assembly line was achieved and lower inventory was recorded. However, it must be considered that the extent of success with such an approach is largely dependent on the degree to which those mandated with supplies can perform the extra work. With this new approach, a vast number of subcontractors assigned with the assembly and the delivery of the completed subsystem faced critical difficulties in completing the extra work. In his research, Wittig (2011) identified that such a difficulty was given rise by the fact that these subcontractors did not have the ability to procure the required parts, perform the subassembly as scheduled or could not do both.
Similar to the previous model, Boeing premiered the first complete 787 jet at a rollout ceremony in July 8, 2007 and this matched the designation of the aircraft in the U.S style month-day-year format. However, different from the case with Boeing 777, several major systems of Boeing 787 had not been installed by the time it was premiered at the rollout ceremony (Wittig, 2011). In addition to this, a vast number of the aircraft’s parts were attached with temporary non-aerospace fasteners, which required a later replacement with flight fasteners. The first flight had been scheduled by September 2007. However, early in September the same year, the company announced that it had postponed this for a period of three moths. The company claimed that there were no enough fasteners and software was also incomplete. While Boeing 787 was an all new technology, the company had never experienced shortcomings(Wagner and Norris, 2009). Boeing 777 was considered an integrative crop of a jet but by the time it was being premiered, it was a complete system.
In October 2007, a further three month postponement and a six-month delay to the firs deliveries were announced. According to a report given by the company, this problem had been surfaced by the company’s domestic, as well as, the foreign supply chain. This was particularly on the continued shortage of fasteners, inadequate documentation from foreign suppliers, as well as, the continued delays with software necessary for flight guidance. Barely a week after, the manager responsible with the project was replaced but the delays in delivery was not indicated as one of the critical reasons that necessitated this changed.
Early 2008, another three months delay to the first flight was announced. In addition, the first delivery to ANA was also postponed until 2009. As cited by the company, this was surfaced by the inadequate progress on work completion assigned to the suppliers. In April the year 2008, the company announced that it intended to acquire the interests of ought Aircraft Industries in Global Aeronautica, which owned the South Carolina Plant that manufactured the principle portions of the jet’s fuselage. The acquisition of this assembly plant implied that it would be a joint venture between Boeing and AleniaAeronautica, an Italian company, on a half-half basis (Wagner and Norris, 2009).
A further delay was to be announced and this shifted the maiden flight to 2008’s fourth quarter. The initial delivery was also delayed to 2009’s third quarter, which was 15 months from then. This delay was meant to provide adequate time for testing the jet in order to accommodate unforeseeable delays. While the company had not announced the flight test schedule, the initial Boeing 787 program had called for a flight test campaign of 9 months. On Boeing 777, the flight test of 70-80 FT hours per month was utilized. However, in the new approach used to manufacture Boeing 787, six flight test 787s at a rate of 120 FT hours per month was used. The flight test rate for Boeing 787 was far much higher as compared to that of Boeing 777. Different from the situation with Boeing 787, Boeing 777 took only eleven months with a total of nine aircrafts flying 7000 FT hours and this was an effort towards partly demonstrating 180-min ETOPS, which was Boeing 777’s main feature (Wagner and Norris, 2009).
A further delay was announced between September and October 2009 and incorrect installation of some of the structurally essential fasteners was cited as the reason for the delay. The company also claimed that as announced earlier, the first flight would not happen. However, during this particular time, there ensured a Boeing machinists strike. A significant range of issues led to this particular strike. Some of the issues that led to the strike included outsourcing, issues concerning job security, pay, as well as, benefits. This strike was also part and parcel of the problems that led to the delay (Wagner and Norris, 2009).
Comparing their weights, Boeing 777 was much lighter than Boeing 787. The first Boeing 787 was expected to weigh approximately 5,000 lb, which is equivalent to 2,300 kg. However, the complete system was way beyond this weight as it was reported to weigh 4,000 lb, which is equivalent to 6,400 kg (Wittig, 2011). Such a massive weight would present problems if the aircraft was released to airlines. Perhaps, the airplane would not even take off. This called for an immediate action and the only way out was to work on reducing this weight. This activity further caused delays.
Boeing could have stuck with its traditional assembling approach rather than opting to outsource. All other aircrafts including the Boeing 777 had been produced using the traditional approach and no incidence was reported. Indeed, in the history of Boeing, planes manufactured using the traditional assembling approach has never had delayed schedules. Opting to outsource was the undoing of this much celebrated commercial jet (Wittig, 2011).The outsourcing assembly approach led to critical development problems.
From this analysis, it is worthwhile to assert that the history of Boeing was dented by its attempt to introduce the next radicle step in commercial passenger jets. Different from other models, Boeing 787 was faced with a significant range of critical problems, which led to delays. These delays, in turn, caused a run behind the scheduled flight. To uncover these problems, the paper compared the development of the commercial jet with that of Boeing 777. As the paper has established, while Boeing 777 was developed in the context of the traditional assembly approach adopted by Boeing, Boeing 787 was developed using an entirely different approach. In other words, rather than an in-house development, work was outsourced. This outsource was the root cause of the series of delays caused. Foremost, the subcontractors were not able to withstand the excess work placed on them (Wittig, 2011).
They could not either procure the required parts or perform the subassembly as schedule. Some could not even do both. Further, as it has been established, the weight of the first complete system was way beyond the requirements and time had to be spent in trimming down the excess weight. In addition to this, the issues of fasteners and software were dominant and this also caused delays. Besides development and construction processes, there were also administration issues that surfaced the delays. The project manager was replaced and there was a Boeing machinists strike. The strike was due to outsourcing, issues concerning job security, rate of pay, as well as, benefits. All these represent administration issues. Generally, if the company had opted to use the traditional way of aircraft manufacturing as it had used to develop the Boeing 777, this delayed schedule would not have surfaced.