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Boeing Co. (BA) boosted production of the new 787 Dreamliner to 3.5 jets a month, ahead of schedule, and said it’s made progress on a plan for a 777 upgrade that will be a “significant improvement” over the current model.
The increase in 787 output was achieved March 1, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh told reporters yesterday at the company’s factory in Everett, Washington. The rate had been 2.5 planes, and Boeing said in January it would boost monthly production by one jet in the second quarter, working toward a goal of 10 a month by 2013, a record rate for a wide-body aircraft.
The production tempo on the world’s first composite-plastic airliner has been a focus for investors after the 787 made its debut more than three years late amid struggles with new materials and manufacturing techniques. Chicago-based Boeing has fallen 26 percent since the first postponement in October 2007.
No customers received 787s in February while Boeing conducted inspections for signs of delamination on the model’s fuselage, Albaugh said. The company has said that shims, or patches, were improperly installed in the aft sections of the plane built in South Carolina, and that it will take 10 to 14 days per plane to replace the pieces.
The faulty process has since been corrected, and Dreamliners from the 57th built onward aren’t affected, Albaugh said. The 57th plane already is being worked on in the Everett factory.
Albaugh commented after a ceremony with Emirates to mark the delivery of the 1,000th 777 jet, Boeing’s most-profitable model. Emirates, the world’s biggest international airline, has 102 777s in service now, making it the biggest customer for the model, and has another 93 on order.
Boeing executives hope to have a plan to take to the company’s board for approval by year-end for a new variant of the twin-engine 777 that would enter service “towards the end of the decade,” Albaugh said.
The leaders of the 787 and 777 programs switched places last week. Boeing named Scott Fancher to run the 777 after he oversaw the 787’s entry into service in October following almost three years in charge. Taking his place on the Dreamliner will be Larry Loftis.
Albaugh said yesterday that Loftis built the 777 assembly line into Boeing’s “finest,” while Fancher will be able to transfer lessons learned in the development of the Dreamliner to his new assignment, particularly as Boeing studies the use of more composites on the revamped version of the older plane.
Emirates was “very impressed” after a briefing yesterday on Boeing’s 777 plans, which include upgrades to the engines and wings, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates chairman, said in an interview. “I think you will see a big improvement to the existing plane.”
The carrier this week added a direct route between Dubai and Seattle using a 777, the world’s longest-range airliner. The airline’s goal is to cover all major points in the U.S. from Dubai within a decade, doubling or tripling its presence in the country, the sheikh said.
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