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787-10 Dreamliner production, testing make progress

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Production on the 787-10 Dreamliner is making progress at Boeing South Carolina, adding more assembly, paint and flight testing work at the North Charleston campus.

The 787-10 Dreamliner is the third derivative of the Dreamliner family — and the largest, at 18 feet longer than the 787-9.

The difference in length was evident during a media tour aboard the plane Thursday. From the entrance near the cockpit, the midbody stretched on, and the back of the plane was not visible from the front.

The twin-aisle jet sat mostly empty on a runway outside of Boeing, awaiting a future customer to determine seat configurations. Some seating and test equipment were inside the plane for ongoing flight testing.

Along with bringing the extra assembly and paint work, 787-10 production also builds on the North Charleston campus’s flight test program, said Michelle Bernson, director of delivery center, flight line and paint operations for Boeing S.C.

Previously, North Charleston workers would handle installation of planes’ customized interiors — adding seats, overhead bins and crew units to each airline’s specifications.

Boeing S.C. workers now also install flight test wiring and equipment in North Charleston, work that was previously done on 787s only in Washington.

Now, when flight tests are complete, Boeing S.C. crews will remove the testing equipment and refurbish the jets for customers, Bernson said.

The North Charleston facilities have produced three 787-10 airplanes thus far, with a fourth now making its way to the flight line. The initial three airplanes will eventually go to customers, but for now, Boeing will use them for flight tests and performance checks.

The airplanes will undergo months of flights test in the Lowcountry and at Boeing’s test center in Seattle ahead of customer deliveries in 2018. Several flight tests are already occurring each week in the Lowcountry.

Boeing expects to deliver its first 787-10 to a customer, Singapore Airlines, in the first half of 2018. Boeing has 177 orders for the dash-10 from at least 11 customers worldwide.

Common design

The 787-10 has about 95% design-build commonality with the 787-9, except for the dash-10’s longer fuselage.

Boeing officials said the similarities helped ease the integration of the 787-10 into the build and final assembly processes, particularly compared with the initial launches of the 787-8 and 787-9, which had numerous production challenges.

David Carbon, Boeing S.C.’s vice president of 787 operations, said the 787-10 build has been the smoothest production transition yet for the S.C. site.

“This has been as good as it gets, honestly,” Carbon said. “The fact that it’s common (with the 787-9) makes a huge difference, and that fact that we’ve got it on the same flight line really helps.”

Final assembly on 787-10s began late last year, and the inaugural rollout was in February, with President Donald Trump in attendance. The first flight was in April.

Carbon said the 6-year-old Boeing S.C. site now focuses on completing 787-10 flight tests ahead of the plane’s official launch and preparing for the next production rate increase.

The 787 facilities in Everett and North Charleston will produce 14 Dreamliners per month by 2019, up from the current rate of 12, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said recently.

Now that Dreamliner production is evenly split between the locations, each final assembly facility should roll out seven planes per month when the rate increase occurs.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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