MIAMI— With the opening of its new Alabama A320 family assembly line, Airbus wasn’t the only aircraft manufacturer in the news this week. Boeing officially announced that Final Assembly of the 737 Max had begun. The first 737 MAX fuselage was loaded onto the specially built third final assembly “surge” line in Renton, Washington, thus entering into a new phase ahead of its roll-out at the end of this year and first test flight scheduled for early 2016.
“We have a lot more work still ahead of us but we’re very pleased with our progress to date” said Keith Leverkuhn, vice president and general manager, 737 MAX program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
According to a mailed press release, the program remains on track to deliver the first 737 MAX to its launch customer, Southwest Airlines, in the third quarter of 2017.So far, In total, the 737 MAX family has reaped 2,869 orders from 58 customers worldwide.
Last May, Boeing began the construction of the wings in the new Panel Assembly Line, an automated wing skin panel production system that according to the manufacturer “consolidates assembly into an in-line flow using a pulsing line.”
By mid- August, Wichita-based Spirit Aerosystems produced the first fuselage, which according to Boeing arrived to Renton on August 21. Since then, mechanics began installing flight systems and insulation blankets.
“It’s an honor. There is only one crew that gets to be that first crew that builds that airplane. I’m really excited,” said Sean Christian, 737 MAX Electrical team lead.
Crews next moved the fuselage to the wing-to-body join position on the new production line where the first MAX’s will be built. Mechanics then attached the wings to the body of the airplane.
Faced with the challenges of taking the 737NG production to 42 aircraft per month by mid 2014, and at the same time, adding in the production of the new MAX without causing production disruptions, Boeing opted to open a third “temporary” line dedicated to the MAX. Unlike the main two lines, the surge line is not a moving line. Progressively, the MAX will be merged into the existing two lines as the 737NGs phase out. Depending on demand and the increased production rate to 52 and then possibly up to 60 aircraft per month, the temporary line could become permanent. Lessons learned from the difficult ramp up of the 737NG from the Classic 737s are being applied nearly two decades later. Boeing appears confident that even though its transitioning to a new generation model and increasing production at the same time, this will not be an issue this time around.
“The opening of a brand new production line in Renton increases our flexibility and capacity, allowing this incredible team to continue to meet our customers’ need for the world’s most reliable single-aisle airplanes, well into the future,” said Scott Campbell, vice president and general manager, 737 program and Renton site leader, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.