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OM in the News: Where To Park All The Boeing 787s?

February 27, 2013
Grounded 787s parked nose-to-tail in Seattle

Grounded 787s parked nose-to-tail in Seattle

The New York Times (Feb. 20, 2013) article titled “New Dreamliner Headache: Parking Space”, makes for a great classroom discussion about a wide variety of operations issues: capacity, supply chains, production scheduling, strategy, quality. With the FAAs grounding of the 787  fleet in its 6th week, Boeing faces a problem of where to store the airplanes that continue to roll off the assembly lines at its giant Seattle and Charleston factories. Reluctant to shut down its production lines, Boeing is producing 787s at a rate of  more than one a week. At the time the fleet was grounded, 50 Dreamliners were in service.  Since the 787 needs special F.A.A. permission to fly, Boeing is trying to make room for the Dreamliners by clearing out all the other models awaiting delivery. A consensus suggests, though, that it will be many months before the plane will fly again.

One reporter counted 15 Dreamliners in Seattle and noted that all the spaces on the flight line were taken. Some of those planes are positioned on a runway previously used for general aviation. Last week, a pilot calling Paine Field was reminded to heed the runway closure notice because “all the 787s are piled up there, they just keep stacking them up.”

Still, production of the 787 is continuing at the same pace at both plants. Stopping or even slowing the assembly lines would be very difficult and costly because the aircraft’s attenuated supply chain draws on parts manufactured all over the world. The engines are built in the U.K., the fuselage in Italy, and various parts of the wing are constructed in Korea, Australia and Japan. “You cannot stop factories all over the world from production,” says an MIT prof. “But everything in the end has capacity. The next step is to keep the suppliers manufacturing but not send the parts, but how many wings can Mitsubishi keep in its factory?”

Discussion questions:

1. Why is the 787 grounded?

2. What are Boeing’s options if the plane is not certified to fly for 2 more months?

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