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Analyst monitors flights to track Dreamliner production

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at 11:31 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at 10:55 p.m.

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An aviation analyst is monitoring Boeing Dreamlifter flights to gauge the progress of 787 production — including flights to Charleston, S.C., Everett, Wash., and to Wichita from Italy — as Boeing deals with production bottlenecks at its Charleston facility.

UBS analyst David Strauss said in a report to investors Friday that the firm is tracking Dreamlifter flights to gauge the pace of shipments from Boeing’s 787 structural suppliers.

Boeing uses gigantic specially modified 747 freighters called the Dreamlifter to pick up and deliver 787 structures from suppliers around the world.

Boeing operates 787 production lines in Everett and Charleston. The tracking of Dreamlifter movements comes as Boeing works to fix production problems in Charleston.

A “deluge of work” has been coming in to Boeing’s final-assembly plant in Everett unfinished, according to a report this week by the Seattle Times. And Charleston managers are reorganizing the myriad of jobs involved in assembling the jet’s mid-fuselage, where the bottleneck is.

To help, Boeing is offering a one-time bonus of 8 percent of a year’s pay to workers in Charleston if they can fix production problems in the next few months, the Seattle Times said.

In the past three months, Boeing has hired 1,100 workers there, many of them skilled contractors, it said.

The bottlenecks have resulted in a big backlog of work as Boeing tries to step up its production pace of the 787.

Boeing is working to minimize the amount of incomplete work traveling to Everett from Charleston, the Seattle Times report said.

UBS is monitoring Dreamlifter flights from Charleston to Everett to gauge bottleneck issues, Strauss wrote in his report.

In November, Boeing said it was sending some fuselage assemblies coming from Italy to Boeing’s facility in Wichita, temporarily waiting for delivery to its Charleston plant.

UBS is monitoring the flights to Wichita from Italy, where a Boeing supplier builds center fuselage sections.

Instead of Wichita, the Dreamlifter flights are supposed to go to Charleston to deliver the center sections for “mid body join,” Strauss wrote. “We believe deliveries are being diverted to Wichita to help alleviate the bottleneck in Charleston.”

Boeing spokesman Lawrence Wilson said that Italian supplier Alenia is building fuselage sections ahead of schedule.

“We are storing them in Wichita until ready to be consumed at BSC (Boeing South Carolina),” Wilson said in an e-mail.

Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita builds the plane’s forward fuselage and ships it to Everett.

UBS tracked 18 Dreamlifter flights into Everett during the first half of February, along with eight arrivals from Charleston from suppliers in Japan and Wichita, he said.

Boeing has increased 787 production to 10 jets a month.

“To keep production flowing, managers have sent the mid-fuselages to Everett with more than 1,000 unfinished jobs per fuselage, adding immense pressure on final-assembly workers there,” the Seattle Times said.

Boeing is now offering the incentive that if workers can get the jobs behind schedule in South Carolina below 3,500 by April 30, engineers and managers will receive a $2,500 bonus. Mechanics will receive a bonus equal to 8 percent of last year’s pay, the report said.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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