Boeing’s 787 certification focus is shifting from aircraft tests to qualification for long-range ETOPS at entry-into-service in the aftermath of last November’s electrical fire, says Boeing CEO James McNerney.

Despite the delays caused by the fire on ZA002, the 787 program has completed 75% of the flight testing required for delivery, but the redesign of software prompted by the incident is threatening the timing of Boeing’s ETOPS qualification program. Without FAA approval for ETOPS at entry-into-service, early long-range operations by launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) and others will be severely limited.

Speaking to analysts on a 2010 earnings call, McNerney adds that as 787 flight hours pass the 2,500 flight-hours mark, qualification testing for ETOPS at entry-into-service is the growing priority. “We have a clear view of what we need to do. The FAA has been working very closely with us. ETOPS is different this time around than it was on the 777. The FAA has a new way of doing it. It used to be cycle-based and now it is fault-based and condition-based. The question is what test points are applicable for each test point, and we have to do it right.”

Commenting on development of the revised power distribution control software after the 787 electrical fire, and whether the chances of winning ETOPS clearance at entry-into-service have been endangered, McNerney says, “We are in agreement. We have a temporary fix, but we are going to implement a permanent fix before we go into ETOPS testing. But there is no misunderstanding between us [and the FAA] on what needs to be done, and on what timing.”

Overall Assembly Rate Will Continue To Grow

Production of the 787 is holding at two per month, and Boeing remains confident the overall assembly rate will continue to grow to 10 per month by the end of 2013. McNerney says the target is achievable but will occur later in the year than originally planned because of the delivery slide to the -8 into the third quarter of 2011. “We had a very conservative view and a significant amount of margin in our production ramp-up plans, and a lot of that has now been eaten up by the latest delay. Everything slid to the right—and that is offset by a contingency we had in 2013.”

McNerney adds that completion of recent assemblies into Everett has been at a “very high” level, suggesting that the company’s supply chain is over the hump on rework levels and aiming for a smoother ride into the production ramp-up plan for 2011-2013. On any thoughts of rate acceleration, McNerney is cautious. “We’re mindful of the supply chain, and we don’t want to relive the experiences of 1997.”

Commenting on the 747-8F program, McNerney says the stretched freighter has also passed the 1,700-flight-hour mark and, at roughly 650 flights, is about two-thirds of the way through its test program. With fixes for the aileron vibration and modal suppression issues discovered last year now completing flight test, Boeing remains confident of achieving first delivery around mid-2011. Development of the -8I passenger variant, meanwhile, remains on track for first flight in late March, while both the first two aircraft have now achieved ‘power-on’ in ground tests.

CFO James Bell says deliveries for 2011 are expected to cover 485-400 aircraft, and that all positions through December are “sold out.” This includes 25-40 747-8/787s, divided “roughly equally between the two programs.” Analysts suggest deliveries of up to 17 747-8s by yearend, meaning that Boeing could be looking at eight to 23 787 deliveries for the last four months of 2011.