LOS ANGELES Executives in the titanium supply chain supporting Boeing Co.s 787 Dreamliner say they havent been told to alter shipments in the wake of technical problems that have grounded most of the planes global fleetbut they are watching the situation closely.
"Theres been no communication to us whatsoever," a source at a titanium supplier said, adding that he doesnt see how problems with the aircrafts 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 Boeings 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, were not overly concerned. Everything weve 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 wouldnt be unprecedented, although the most serious earlier stretchouts of raw material shipments werent 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 companys inventory built up (amm.com, April 14, 2008).
At that time, Boeings "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 Boeings direction it was "temporarily suspending" shipments to contractors in order to "manage" anticipated raw material needs.