One of the earlyand substantialpurchasers of the 787 is Continental Airlines, which has placed orders for 25 Dreamliners. In an e-mail Q&A with Airline Procurement, Senior Engineering Director John Wiitala revealed how the carrier will deal with some of the MRO issues.

Airline Procurement: How is Continental setting up for maintenance, repair and overhaul of the 787? What will be different versus the existing fleet?

Continental: We have become much better at service-ready programs for inducting aircraft. The 787 is more of a challenge since there is so much more technology integrated into the aircraft, including the extensive use of carbon fiber reinforced polymer. Since we were a launch customer, we have been a part of the Working Together Team and have attended most all of the critical design meetings at Boeing. We were careful to have each of the groups at Continental review the changes for impact in their area. We have also reviewed the existing manuals such as the Structural Repair Manual to ensure we are prepared for the delivery of the 787. Key differences for overhaul include an expected 12-year limit to the heavy check compared with roughly eight-plus years on a 777.

AP: We are particularly interested in how carriers will assemble or procure the newer materials, such as composite materials used in the fuselage, wings and engine blades, and the related supply chain matters.

CO: CFRP use is not that new; it has been used for some time and the entire 777 empennage is constructed of that material. The blade material used on the GEnx engine is similar to that used on the GE90. Boeing has broken down repair into three groups: Quick patch type repairs, then repairs that go to heavy check, and permanent repairs. It is supporting this with repair kits and titanium formed repair doublers.

AP: Will you need to set up a totally different MRO structure for the 787 in terms of modifying your facilities?

CO: At this point no new facilities are envisioned, although certainly more training of the personnel will be required. Some facility issues will need to be resolved such as the possibility of having cooled storage for the CFRP repair kits. These issues will be resolved through the Service Ready Program.

AP: Will the airline need to purchase composite-making equipment such as the layering machines that are used to build the carbon fiber or other materials?

CO: We should not be required to purchase the type of equipment used in the fabrication of the barrel sections and the wings. If extensive damage is experienced, Boeing has designed the 787 fuselage to accommodate it and is prepared to support very large repairs. In an extreme circumstance, it is possible to replace a one-fourth section of a fuselage barrel by splicing it into the existing structure.

AP: Will you utilize some central facility, perhaps shared with other carriers, to deal with unique MRO issues related to the 787?

CO: We will continue to work with other airlines to ensure safety of the aircraft and passengers. The airlines in the past have been able to share tooling or purchase material from each other and we expect nothing different with the 787.

AP: How is your purchasing and procurement department dealing with the 787 as it relates to MRO? Have any new teams been set up to develop an internal system or protocol for having the right parts available at the right facilities at the right time?

CO: This again would be part of the Service Ready Program. There should not be a need to handle the 787 differently with the exception of the different technology built into the aircraft. Like any new production aircraft, the purchasing departments will correlate station activity with maintenance activity and establish a confidence level for how to stock the inventory support.

Because this aircraft has yet to develop trend analysis, initial procurement activity will be based on predictive analysis based on data received from the Boeing Recommended Spare Parts List and applying our own operational parameters into the calculations. We would utilize Boeing's data initially to come up with a foundation and then modify it for our own overall MRO plan. Because our overall organizational structure is built to adapt, provisioning MRO support for new aircraft will not require much change other than understanding the importance of meeting milestones.

AP: Have you done any risk analysis to try to forecast when any 787 materials may need to be replaced or the life expectancy of various parts of the airplane so you can plan for regular intervals?

CO: Boeing should have identified long lead time items such as engines last year. We have already ordered some parts. Boeing is due to come in July to identify the recommended spares for the program.

AP: How does Boeing's Gold Care plan work? Do you plan to use it or set up something internally at Continental?

CO: We are not planning on utilizing Gold Care at this time. All of the programs will be handled by Continental internally.