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Boeing Can’t Move 787 Work Without Permission, Alenia Says

A Boeing Co. supplier said it was “surprised” by a report that the planemaker plans to take over production of the 787 Dreamliner’s tail section for future models, and that it would have to agree to any move.

Alenia Aeronautica designed and builds the 787-8’s horizontal stabilizer and so would have to approve any reallocation of work for the 787-9, the company, a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA, said today in an e-mailed statement.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh told investors yesterday that the Chicago-based planemaker plans to build the horizontal tails for the new 787-9 at its manufacturing hub in Seattle, the Seattle Times reported today. Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman, confirmed the comments.

The issue highlights potential problems with the new assembly process Boeing developed for the Dreamliner and plans to use with future new aircraft. The company chose “risk-sharing partners” around the world who are responsible for entire sections of the plane, flying completed sections to a Boeing factory for final assembly. That new system has contributed to more than three years of delays for the plane.

Alenia builds two sections of the fuselage for Boeing in Italy, along with the carbon-fiber stabilizer, which is the wing at the rear of the plane that prevents the nose from experiencing a pitching motion.

Dreamliner Setbacks

As the setbacks to the Dreamliner mounted, Boeing talked about taking some work back from suppliers including Alenia. The planemaker in August said it was inspecting the fleet of 787s already built and would analyze Alenia’s production processes and workmanship after discovering flaws in the stabilizers in June. In 2009, work was temporarily stopped and Boeing had to patch planes after finding wrinkles in Alenia’s fuselage sections.

Boeing in October moved its former 747 program chief, Mo Yahyavi, to Italy to help Alenia. Rome-based Finmeccanica said in November that the companies had a recovery plan and would be producing corrected stabilizers by early 2011.

Production of the tail section is “currently ahead of the latest Boeing schedule plan, and we are negotiating our proposals for the 787-9,” Alenia said in today’s statement.

Birtel declined to comment on the quality of the 787-8 stabilizers so far this year and said Boeing doesn’t discuss negotiations with suppliers or their contract terms.

He confirmed that Boeing has begun some development work in Seattle for the next variant, the 787-9, and said the company also plans to do the initial production itself. Boeing is in talks with Alenia as it considers the long-term plan, Birtel said today in a telephone interview.

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