After several false starts and the most intensive build-up to the entry of revenue services for any commercial program, including the 747 and 777, Boeing feels as prepared as it can ever be for 787 operations to begin.

“The aircraft is certified and going through the first of model testing,” says 787 Services Vice President Mike Fleming, who adds, “It's been a long time coming.”

For Fleming, the silver lining of the final delay, which pushed deliveries to launch customer All Nippon Airways back from late 2010 to this month, was the chance for Boeing itself to become familiar with the 787 before it passes into the harsh regime of day-to-day service.

This may seem like a strange thing to say about the manufacturer of the product, but Fleming points out that the routine operation of an aircraft is a completely different experience from building, testing and developing it. In this final pre-delivery phase, Boeing service and support personnel become “the first customer to try out the tools and validate the training.”

“We have had to deliver all the manuals, spare parts, training and training devices for the pilots and mechanics. All those have had to be built and ready for them to use before delivery of the aircraft, and that has kept us busy,” Fleming says. Boeing support teams were also embedded within the 787 flight-test group to “really learn about the aircraft. They've been supporting the flight-test [regime] just like we would an airline, and that's allowed us to demonstrate to ourselves that we are ready. In addition, we did the SROV [service-ready operational validation] in July, and that gave us and our suppliers the opportunity to demonstrate the ability to support ANA.

The week-long SROV was performed by test aircraft ZA002 on a series of representative ANA network flights between Tokyo Haneda Airport and Osaka, Okayama and Hiroshima. Initial tests included compatibility checks with specific boarding gates at the airports during the overnight hours. It was also a chance for ANA and Boeing crews to work together to test airline operations such as towing procedures, ground-support equipment and maintenance actions.

“From a Boeing standpoint we've been using our own people to try out our procedures and training,” says Fleming. Boeing followed the lead of the 777 program in involving personnel early in order to gain experience before sending them out to support customers. However, Fleming says, “this time we've taken it quite a bit further. We've brought in some manufacturing staff earlier, and have had 18 that have been involved as flight-test employees, up to and including ETOPS as well as function and reliability [F&R] tests. We were embedded in the process itself.”

Boeing's initial delivery-standard 787, ZA102, the ninth production airframe, started the first block of ETOPS and F&R tests on July 3. The evaluation was completed in mid-August, and marked the final phase of testing before certification was granted later that month. F&R testing simulated various normal and non-normal operations in a realistic airline flight environment. ETOPS testing—included within the F&R block—validated the ability of the 787 to safely divert for a variety of reasons, including long flights with one engine shut down.

Support personnel involved in the flight-test phase will be dispatched as field service representatives to the initial batch of customer airlines which, along with ANA, includes LAN, Japan Airlines and Air India.

At the heart of Boeing's support plan is a specially created 787 operational control center (OCC) in Building 40-88 within its Everett, Wash., complex. Developed as an adjunct to the Boeing Operations Center (BOC) in Seattle, which handles aircraft-on-ground (AOG) issues for the entire Boeing commercial fleet, the OCC was opened when flight tests began, but went through its first major test run during the ETOPS and F&R program. The center proved useful when “certain components” failed on the aircraft while on the remote Pacific island of Guam during the ETOPS tests, says Fleming.

The OCC team coordinated the correct response, decided what needed changing and whether to put the failed item on the master minimum equipment list (a notation of systems, instruments and equipment on the aircraft not required to be operative for flight). “We patterned the OCC on an airline's control room, rather than the BOC,” says Fleming, who adds that airlines provided Boeing with advice about the layout and organization of the center. “The OCC will act as a central hub for getting information about what's going on throughout the support chain, and will help coordinate urgent support. If there are any AOG situations, they could go through the BOC,” he adds.

The operations center is in Everett—adjacent to the 787 design, engineering and production teams—to help shorten response time.

The center will monitor the performance of the 787 fleet in real time, and “will allow us to get ahead of what happens on the aircraft,” says Fleming. The data coming off the fleet will allow the monitoring team to quickly establish the 787's “normal” behavior and quirks. Experience gained on the 777, for example, showed that incidents or events originally believed to warrant an inspection or maintenance action, proved to be part of the aircraft's normal operation. Fleming adds that “early on, there are things that have more to do with the engineers and pilots being familiar with the product,” than anything being amiss.

Though not a straightforward copy of the BOC, the OCC and nearby 787 Product Integration Control Center were both inspired by the operations room near the Duwamish River, close to Boeing Field. “The BOC served as a catalyst,” says Lou Mancini, senior vice president of Boeing Commercial Aviation. “You can touch it, and get your hands on it, and I think the OCC could do the same thing. I want a glass wall around that, and I want the Everett employees to be able to see how that place will operate 24/7 in real time.”

Flight training of 150 Boeing test and instructor pilots has been completed in Seattle and Singapore. The instructors are supporting global training being undertaken by Boeing Training and Flight Services (formerly Alteon Training). Supported by simulator-provider Thales, Boeing operates a network of 80 simulators across 17 sites in 12 countries on six continents. BT&S and Thales have developed a special 787 training suite that includes a full-flight simulator, flat-panel flight-training device, a desktop trainer, which includes a 3-D virtual aircraft walk-around, a cabin door trainer and a desktop brief/debrief tool. Five 787 simulators have been installed worldwide. Now the airlines await the real thing.