SEATTLE (Reuters) - Boeing Co (BA.N) has scrambled to reorganize testing of its new 777X to avoid being delayed by engine snags, while robots and mechanics are starting work on the fuselage, the executive who heads efforts to build the world’s largest twin-engined jet said in an interview.
Engine supplier General Electric (GE.N) began flight trials of its new GE9X jet engine on Tuesday after a three-month delay caused mainly by a problem in its compressor. But to put the engine development back on track it must build a new component.
During that time, Boeing will place two temporary engines on the first flight-test aircraft that is gradually beginning to take shape, starting with its lightweight carbon wings and now the fuselage, which Boeing says is on schedule.
The engines, identical in every other respect to the ones that will go into service, will be swapped for fresh ones with the new part before the first 777X carries out its maiden flight next year. The temporary engines will not be fired up, but having them in place will allow other tests to go ahead.
“Honestly, when this happened I thought ‘this is going to be bad’ and we just kept grinding and grinding at it, and we came up with some pretty creative things to test where we could, build where we could,” 777X Vice President and General Manager Eric Lindblad told Reuters.
“To put engines on and then take them off - that is all to protect the schedule,” Lindblad said.
The hurried rejig reflects the fact that after years of planning, production has begun in earnest - something evident from activity inside Boeing’s new high-tech wing center.
“We are at the point where it is time to start scaling up the speed that we build things here,” Lindblad said inside the 1.3 million-square-foot (120,800-square-meter) fabrication plant where machines weave and bake major parts of the carbon wings.
The engine swap is also an example of how Boeing is trying to avoid eating into the ‘buffer’ traditionally built into development schedules. That’s because it faces a challenging two years before the latest version of its 777 enters service.
“We are now in the thick of it ... There is no more waiting until later to solve problems,” Lindblad said. “There are still two years left. You cannot give away your buffer.”
The 777X aims to maintain Boeing’s grip on the ‘mini-jumbo’ market by leapfrogging Airbus SE’s (AIR.PA) 365-seat A350-1000. Boeing has sold over 300 jets, though activity has slowed.
So far, Boeing says it is on track to meet a 2020 target for delivering the first 406-seat 777-9 model to Emirates Airline.
But although the engine snag marks the first significant public slippage, Boeing has already faced a