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Originally published April 27, 2010 at 2:59 PM | Page modified April 28, 2010 at 6:33 AM

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Boeing suspends delivery of new 787 sections to Everett

Boeing is halting deliveries of all new 787 fuselage sections and wings to the Everett assembly plant for about five weeks to iron out supply-chain problems.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing is halting deliveries of all new 787 fuselage sections and wings to Everett for about five weeks to cope with supplier delays that have caused extra work to pile up at the final assembly plant.

Essential parts haven't arrived on time at the plants of some major Boeing partners, spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said Tuesday.

She attributed part of the production holdup to design changes made to trim the weight of the 787 Dreamliner.

The delays won't affect the plan to deliver the first Dreamliner by the end of this year, Leach said, because the first production airplanes are already fully assembled in Everett.

An employee familiar with the problem at Boeing's 787 plant in Charleston, S.C., said floor beams and fuselage frames were among the major parts that have not showed up on time.

The major 787 suppliers affected, including Boeing Charleston, recently shipped Dreamliner sections that were only about 60 percent complete inside to Everett.

"Everett decided they can't handle any more traveled work," said the Charleston employee, referring to work left incomplete by a partner that must be finished at the final assembly site. He welcomed the delivery break because it will provide "more time to get things in order on this end."

Back in 2007, the first serious program delays on the 787 occurred when crews of inexperienced workers at new plants including Charleston, hampered by fastener shortages, failed to finish their allotted work.

This time, Leach said, the parts shortages were in part triggered by design changes introduced at airplane number 20 to save weight.

While the sections for the first 22 airplanes are already in Everett, Leach said, the sections for the next Dreamliners, numbers 23 and 24, will not be delivered "for approximately 24 manufacturing days" (a week is five manufacturing days) as Boeing works "to get the production system stabilized."

Boeing has included some buffer time in its schedule to ramp up to 10 planes a month by 2013, so that won't be affected.

"It's just a temporary adjustment," Leach said. "We are still on track for the ramp-up plan and our customer commitments."

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Boeing, which is in intensive flight-testing on the first Dreamliners, will continue to assemble the planes already on hand in Everett.

"We are continuing to finish all the airplanes that are out there in the factory," Leach said. "We are not halting work anywhere. We just want the work to be finished at the partner sites."

Not all the Dreamliner partners have had the parts shortages, but all will have to halt deliveries for the five-week period, she said.

"There are a few suppliers having challenges," Leach said. "There are also a couple that are fine."

A person familiar with the status of production at Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the 787 nose section and forward fuselage in Wichita, Kan., said the problems have "nothing to do with Spirit."

The Charleston employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk about Boeing, said Everett recently had been accepting airplane sections that were less complete than before, because Charleston couldn't get them finished as mechanics waited for parts.

"They have got to catch up on the birds that are already in Everett. They are waiting for parts, too," he said.

The Charleston employee traced the problems back to the design changes introduced at airplane No. 20, which affected many parts within the airframe. He said suppliers didn't make the necessary changes in time.

"It's hard to do without parts. That's our biggest Achilles' heel here lately," he said.

The pieces that haven't been showing up in Charleston include both major airframe pieces and smaller fittings.

"We were looking at (fuselage) frames, floor beams, different brackets of all sorts," the Charleston employee said. "Without those parts, you are dead in the water."

"We've been fighting for months to get things up to speed," he said.

Leach said there will be no layoffs or furloughs at any of the 787 production sites as a result of the delivery halt.

The Charleston employee also said the installation of ducting and wiring in the 787 fuselage — work originally planned to be done in Charleston — has been permanently transferred to Everett.

Boeing's Leach acknowledged that "we've had changes into who is doing what."

Dominic Gates: dgates@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2963.

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