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Titanium suppliers keep an eye on 787 issues

Keywords: Tags  Boeing, aerospace, titanium, lithium, 787 Dreamliner, TMX Aerospace, ThyssenKrupp Materials, Federal Aviation Administration Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — Executives in the titanium supply chain supporting Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner say they haven’t been told to alter shipments in the wake of technical problems that have grounded most of the plane’s global fleet—but they are watching the situation closely.

"There’s been no communication to us whatsoever," a source at a titanium supplier said, adding that he doesn’t see how problems with the aircraft’s lithium batteries could affect structural production of the plane.

The 787 airframe has a titanium buy-weight estimated at 180,000 pounds.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) temporarily grounded Boeing’s newest commercial airliner this week, maintaining that airlines must demonstrate the batteries are safe before flying resumes. Moreover, two Japanese airlines that account for nearly half of the approximately 50 Dreamliners already delivered have grounded those planes due to battery problems, while airlines in Europe and the Middle East also are leaving the planes on the tarmac until the issues are resolved.

"Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible," Jim McNerney, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago-based company, said in a statement.

"We have no plans to suspend 787 production," a Boeing spokesman in Seattle said when asked if the company had asked any raw material suppliers to suspend or slow deliveries to the program. Boeing has a backlog of about 850 orders for the aircraft.

"As of right now, we’re not overly concerned. Everything we’ve seen so far is that Boeing is going full-bore on maintaining production of the 787-8 as well as ramping up the 787-9," a component supplier said, referring to the Dreamliner currently being produced and the next, longer model due for delivery starting next year.

However, another aerospace supplier said that the outcome will depend on how quickly Boeing, the airlines and the regulatory agencies find a solution to the problem.

A cutback in deliveries wouldn’t be unprecedented, although the most serious earlier stretchouts of raw material shipments weren’t associated with technical problems on planes already in service.

In 2008, as Boeing slashed its expectations of 787 deliveries through 2009 by nearly 80 percent to 25 planes, it deferred shipments of certain titanium products flowing to Dreamliner contractors as the company’s inventory built up (, April 14, 2008).

At that time, Boeing’s "exclusive service provider," Kent, Wash.-based service center TMX Aerospace Inc., a division of Southfield, Mich.-based ThyssenKrupp Materials NA Inc., told customers that at Boeing’s direction it was "temporarily suspending" shipments to contractors in order to "manage" anticipated raw material needs.

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