A key 787 program milestone called "firm configuration" is due later this month. Arriving at firm configuration means the main features...

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A key 787 program milestone called “firm configuration” is due later this month.

Arriving at firm configuration means the main features of the airplane design, including the exterior look, have been set and are unlikely to change.

It’s a step that means the design moves from an overall architectural phase into detailed design of the individual parts of the jet.

The milestone is particularly important on the 787 because much of the detailed design work — of the wings, the fuselage, the flight deck — will be done not by Boeing but by its global partners.

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Boeing has already given its partners the go-ahead to begin the transition to detailed design work.

Italian partner Alenia had a peak of 200 people working with Boeing here in Seattle over the last two years. Almost all were engineers, learning the manufacturing they’ll need to build the large composite 787 fuselage sections. By year end, all but 50 will have gone home.

“We are in the process of transferring workers back to Italy for the production of the aircraft,” said an Alenia spokesman.

Other news about the 787’s progress:

Production rate is up

Because of the enormous sales success for this new jet, at the end of June Boeing decided to accelerate by four months its planned 787 production rate buildup.

According to internal documents, the new plan means the Everett factory will be rolling out seven per month by mid-2009, allowing delivery of 444 aircraft by the end of 2012.

But that’s only 21 aircraft more than previously planned. So in addition, Boeing and its partners in July began a detailed study of a much more dramatic ramp up that would see the rate increase gradually from seven per month to 14 per month by the spring of 2011.

If that’s implemented it will allow delivery of 554 aircraft by the end of 2012, with a new jet rolling out every day and a half.

Weight problems

addressed

Back in April, according to internal company documents, the Rolls-Royce-engine version of the 787 was 6,800 pounds over the target weight; the GE-engine version was 6,100 pounds overweight.

By July, later documents show, the engineers had slimmed down those figures to 5,000 pounds and 4,700 pounds overweight respectively, about 2 percent over where it should be.

That puts the 787 within the parameters of previous programs at the same stage of development. While the 777 and 767 jets had more modest weight problems, the 747 was more than 6 percent overweight less than two years before rollout.

South Korea joins

the global team

The aerospace manufacturing division of Korean Air Lines (KAL) will have a substantial 787 package not yet publicly announced.

KAL will make the 787’s raked wingtips. Under subcontract from Vought, it will also produce the tail cone at the rear of the airplane that houses the auxiliary power unit.

Additionally, it will provide stringers for the wing; a bulkhead wall behind the wheel well; and the fairing for the wing flap supports.

Although KAL is an Airbus A330 customer that might have been expected to go with Airbus’ planned A350 rival to Boeing’s new jet, in April the airline ordered 10 787s with options for 10 more.

Vought spokeswoman Lynne Warne said the subcontract to Korea was “pivotal in getting KAL to buy airplanes.”

Japanese wing tooling

Everett-based Electroimpact provides all the factory tooling for the manufacture of Airbus’ wings in north Wales in the United Kingdom.

But the local company’s bid to provide the 787’s major wing-tooling equipment to Mitsubishi of Japan didn’t succeed.

Instead, Mitsubishi is going with a Japanese company, Hikari Technology, according to Boeing internal documents.

As a consolation, said a company insider, Electroimpact did manage to grab some smaller tooling-equipment contracts from the other Japanese 787 partners, Kawasaki and Fuji.

A $15.5 million outsourcing incentive

This month Manson Construction is due to break ground on a barge dock at Mukilteo, right below the Everett plant.

Though it was once seen as an incentive to Boeing to keep the 787 here, the logistics for the new airplane does not include the pier.

In fact, the state-funded dock could allow future outsourcing.

In 2003, Washington state made its successful high-stakes bid to win 787 final assembly in Everett. Led by then-Gov. Gary Locke, the effort won the day with a $3.2 billion tax-break package over 20 years, plus additional sweeteners.

Among those was the barge dock at Mukilteo, capable of receiving very large aircraft structures and transferring them to a rail siding for a quick trip up the steep hill to the Everett plant.

The state allocated $15.5 million for this in its incentive package.

“This is an important piece of the many steps we are taking to persuade Boeing that Washington state is the best home for final assembly of the 7E7,” Locke said when the Legislature approved the funding.

Though Boeing always said that the barge wasn’t tied to a specific program, politicians assumed they ought to provide it, in case Boeing needed it.

But as it turns out, the 787 logistics plan is to fly in all the big structures. The barge is not needed for the 787. Yet Boeing is committed to funding all project costs above the state contribution.

The company may end up paying $10 million or so from its own pocket, according to Ed Paskovskis, deputy director of the port of Everett.

So what’s the new dock for?

It certainly will streamline deliveries to the plant, and provide a backup for 787 deliveries. Yet its express purpose is to ship in large pieces of airplanes, much larger pieces than are shipped now.

It therefore provides Boeing the option to outsource the fabrication of existing jets. Complete fuselage sections could be shipped in from Japan.

In 2003, according to internal documents, even as the Legislature debated the incentives it should offer, Boeing was quietly studying exactly that.

Today, Japan makes fuselage panels for the 777, but they are assembled into a complete fuselage in Everett. Boeing weighed a plan called 777 HAL (for Higher Assembly Level) that would have seen 777 fuselage sections shipped in almost complete from Japan.

Boeing later shelved the 777 HAL option, said company spokesman Tom Downey.

But company executives continue to look at bringing more of our bigger parts in through the pier,” Downey said.

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