Boeing Plans Seattle-Area 787 Inspections After Production Ends

Boeing Co. plans to extend work on 787 Dreamliner jetliners at its main widebody factory north of Seattle for months after it shutters production there next year and shifts final assembly to South Carolina.

The planemaker intends to used the freed up space at the Everett, Washington plant to inspect and repair any defects in the carbon-composite airframes of Dreamliners, according to 787 production blogger Uresh Sheth, who cited an internal company email. It will involve aircraft that are located there but haven’t yet been delivered and the transition will likely occur in March, he wrote in a post Wednesday.

A Boeing spokesperson confirmed the decision, while declining to say how long the inspections would continue or how many workers would stay on to support the 787 program. About 1,000 mechanics and electricians assemble Dreamliners in Everett, a storied plant that risks being hollowed out over the next two years as Boeing winds down work on its 747 jumbo jetliner.

“As we’ve shared previously, we’re lowering our 787 production rate from six airplanes per month to five airplanes per month in 2021,” the Chicago-based company said in an emailed statement. “As we make this transition, our 787 teammates in Everett will complete inspections and any rework as needed.”

Dreamliner deliveries have slowed to a crawl as the manufacturer expands its search for tiny gaps or roughness in the fuselage barrels that could prematurely age the 787 structures. Where the two fuselage segments are joined, engineering specifications allow for slight variances, or wrinkles, in the inner surface that are about the width of a human hair.

The issues don’t pose an immediate threat to safety, and Boeing and U.S. regulators are determining what course of action to take for Dreamliners already in service.

Unwinding Inventory

Boeing didn’t deliver any of its marquee wide-body jets in November as it also contends with a market ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith warned earlier this month that December shipments would be light due to the lengthy inspections, and that the company anticipates “unwinding the inventory now of those undelivered aircraft through 2021.”

With its inventory bulging with undelivered Dreamliners and costs mounting from “rework being done on the last 70 787s built, we would not be surprised by a forward loss on the 787,” analyst Myles Walton of UBS wrote in a Dec. 7 report, referring to a potential accounting charge.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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