- Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) conversion program for Boeing 777s is behind schedule.
- The company recently revealed it delayed test flights of the first 777 freighter off its conversion line until next year.
- Observers now reckon it could be February before the aircraft takes off.
IAI is not the only aerospace company behind schedule with its conversion program. Elbe Flugzeugwerke, the joint-venture of Airbus and ST Aerospace for Airbus passenger-to-freighter conversions, revealed in October it would miss its target of turning 12 A330s into all-cargo configuration this year and would be struggling to complete more than eight.
The situation is not much better in new aircraft productions: after turning out 51 planes in September, Boeing managed only 35 in October, and with 122 new orders signed that month, the backlog continued to grow. Airbus delivered 68 commercial aircraft in November, but this was not enough to keep the company on track to meet its 2022 target.
The aerospace industry has become a poster child for broken supply chains under the long shadow of Covid. Aircraft production and conversions have been hobbled by shortages of labor and parts from raw materials and rivets to microchips and engines. The meltdown started during the pandemic, which severely disrupted aerospace supply chains. Built on the just-in-time concept, they were not able to cope with problems of quarantines, disrupted schedules, large-scale flight cancellations and travel restrictions.
War in Ukraine and continuing lockdowns in China have exacerbated the problems, Mr Faury said. And his outlook on a return to normal is bleak. He said: “We believe we will be operating in this supply constrained environment for at least a year.”
Finding Alternative Suppliers
Other industry executives are citing wait times of ten or 11 months for certain parts and, with more than 10,000 parts used in a conversion of an aircraft. Finding alternative suppliers is challenging and time-consuming, as every part that goes into an aircraft has to be from a certified supplier, and the certification process is painstakingly lengthy.
Suppliers are feeling the heat as well. Some have warned they are facing cash flow problems as they sit on growing mountains of inventory while plane-makers’ production lines only inch forward. Mammoth Freighters, which turns 777s into all-cargo configuration, has managed to avoid serious delays so far, according to Brian McCarthy, VP of sales and marketing.
The second key plank in the company’s strategy is to get parts well ahead of time, which carries some risk. He explained ”Lead times are long and we have to make a substantial investment in rather large mill runs as well as other advanced orders for parts, materials and services…”
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