On Deck at Boeing's 787 Assembly Line

Jan 18, 2013

Outside the Boeing plant in Everett, newly assembled 787s sit ready for delivery. Inside, the production line rolls on. That’s despite this week’s setbacks for the company’s newest model, the 787 Dreamliner.

Airlines around the world have grounded the planes amid concerns about its lithium ion batteries. It was a battery issue that caused an All Nippon Airways’787 to make an emergency landing in Japan earlier this week. KUOW’s Liz Jones visited the Boeing plant in Everett to get a closer view of this aircraft under scrutiny.

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Credit Photo by Strower / Wikimedia Commons

Olson: “So this is our Stratodeck, our observation deck. Mt. Baker is there...”

I met Tony Olson at the Future of Flight museum. It’s right next door to Boeing’s plant in Everett. We’re looking across Paine Field at a row of brand-new planes, ready for delivery.

Olson: “To the right is an '87, and you can tell by the wings. They’re just a little perky."

There are two planes for Polish Airlines, one for Japan Airlines and another for All Nippon Airways.

Olson: "This is just standard out here - sometimes it's more."

The museum offers the only public tours of the plant. I took one, along with about 15 tourists. No recording is allowed.

On a balcony above the 787 assembly line, our guide says the operation looks like any other day.

Dreamliner number 94 is parked at the front. It’s an order for Thomson Airways, which is set to be the first British airline to fly the Dreamliner.

A huge wall is decorated with the tails of all the 787s delivered so far to various airlines. It’s like a collection of trophies.

A Canadian tourist, Marilyn Anderson, asks our guide about the “recent mishap” with the Dreamliner. The guide says he can’t comment.

After the tour, I asked Anderson if she’d fly in a 787, after the FAA gives the all-clear.

Anderson: “Um, I think it would have to be a while in the future at this point because it’s very fresh. And I think they’d have to sort of get the cobwebs out of it and try it a little more.

Jones: “How long would you think?”

Anderson: “Well, I’m going to say a good year. I think a year is reasonable.”

Other people on the tour say they are confident the plane will be safe once it’s cleared to fly again.

At a restaurant across from the plant, Boeing workers come and go. Most say they’re not allowed to talk to media. But a young mechanic says his co-workers don’t seem too concerned. He brushes off the 787 battery issue as a “supplier problem”.

Karl Seuring is finishing up his lunch. He’s a commercial pilot and a Boeing contractor. His company works on safety issues with Boeing’s older aircraft.

Seuring puts a positive spin on this recent trouble with the 787.

Seuring: “I think it’s been amazing that we’ve had so few problems. This is a revolutionary airplane.”

Suering says people in the industry tend to expect a few bumps along the way with a new product.

He understands future 787 passengers might be wary about safety issues. But not him.

Seuring: “I don’t think there’s any reason to push back. Matter fact an airplane with level of scrutiny with this sort of problem will be that much safer than those that haven’t been reviewed.”

I ask Suering whether he thinks Boeing will lose business because of this problem with the 787. He responds with a little joke.

Seuring: "There’s a saying, the greatest competitor for a new Boeing plane is an old Boeing plane."

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio