Boeing has appointed a new man to head the roll-out of its 787 Dreamliner, in a bid to step up production of the revolutionary plane.
Larry Loftis, formerly head of the Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer's popular 777 programme, takes over from Scott Fancher, who in turn takes Loftis's old job.
'My first task is to speed up the production of the plane to 3 1/2 per month within three months from 2 1/2 at present,' Loftis told the media during a dinner in Seattle to mark the delivery of the 25th B777 aircraft to Cathay Pacific Airways.
The B787 production target will then be further accelerated to five a month by the end of this year, and to 10 a month by 2014.
There are currently 870 orders for the Dreamliner, which features the use of carbon fibre in the construction of its fuselage and wings, and even at a production rate of 10 a month by 2014 it would take nearly nine years to fulfil its orders, Loftis said. It took 18 years to deliver 1,000 B777s, almost half the time it took to build the same number of B767s - its previous wide-bodied aircraft.
Loftis dismissed concerns about the safety of the B787, saying that the carbon-fibre construction was 'utterly safe'.
His reassurance came after a warning by the US Government Accountability Office that the composite material inside Boeing's new plane would snap without giving any heads-up to the inspectors.
The office expressed concern in a report in November that use of composite materials meant that maintenance engineers would not know what to look for or how to judge whether there were important safety problems with the new plane.
Unlike metal parts that might stretch and warp over time to leave tell-tale signs of age or wear and tear, the composite material could be prone to cracking without giving noticeable warning signals.
The watchdog urged Boeing to do more to make sure the long-term life of its 787 was easier to monitor.
'The same type of carbon fibre has been used for building the vertical and horizontal tail of the B777 for 18 years now. So it has been well proven,' Loftis said.
Production of the B787 ran into a glitch when the landing gear of an aircraft stuck on approach to Japan's Okayama Airport in early November, just a week after the first Dreamliner passenger flight was operated between Tokyo and Hong Kong at the end of October. All Nippon Airways, the first airline to fly the B787, later discovered that a faulty hydraulic valve caused the problem.
Loftis said he had no comment to make on the incident, since he had just taken over the programme.
Cathay Pacific, which operates the largest fleet of B777s in the world, has no plans to order B787s. Instead, it has ordered 38 Airbus A350-900s in its HK$190 billion aircraft-acquisition programme.