Boeing Sees 787 Check Slowing Work While Delivery Goal Met

Boeing Orders Checks of 787
The tailfin of a Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner aircraft is seen on display at the Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photographer: Duncan Chard/Bloomberg

Boeing Co. said 2012 deliveries for the 787 Dreamliner should stay on schedule after an initial slowdown of work as the first composite-plastic passenger jet is inspected for signs of delamination on the fuselage.

“We’re working through the engineering on it and we don’t think it’ll impact our deliveries for the year,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh told reporters today suburban Seattle. “It’ll slow things down initially, though.”

There is no “short-term safety concern” from the fault, which was caused by an incorrect assembly in a support structure within the plane’s aft fuselage, according to a statement yesterday from Scott Lefeber, a spokesman. All Nippon Airways Co., the 787’s only operator, said it will keep flying the jets.

Delamination is a term for the separation that can occur in a composite material when its layers crack and lose strength. The new checks add to the challenges in boosting output of the twin-engine 787, which entered service in 2011 after more than three years of delays.

The Dreamliner’s two deliveries in January were half a plane less than the current monthly production rate, which is due to reach 10 by the end of 2013. Chicago-based Boeing declined to say how many jets showed signs of delamination.

Boeing expects that the repairs on the 787 will be a “relatively easy fix,” Albaugh said today in Mukilteo, Washington, near the planemaker’s wide-body jet factory in Everett.

‘Take a Look’

“We need to open a few of those up and take a look,” Albaugh said. “We understand what needs to be done. We think it’s a relatively easy fix.”

Boeing fell 1.2 percent to $75.46 at the close in New York. That was the third-biggest drop among the 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on a day when broad U.S. indexes declined.

The work that resulted in the delamination was traced to the assembly of the aft fuselage section at a plant near Charleston, South Carolina, Boeing said yesterday. It involved “improper shimming” of the support structure in that part of the plane.

Subcontractors use different techniques to make composite parts, which can result in issues for manufacturers, said Michel Merluzeau, an aviation consultant with G2 Solutions in Seattle.

“Delamination is not like the aircraft is peeling” its skin, he said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with the design itself. This is a production issue that needs to be corrected. There’s no flight or safety issue.”

All Nippon

Boeing said it already notified the Dreamliner’s early customers “to ensure they are informed and aware of our plans to make repairs, should they be needed.”

ANA is awaiting more details from Boeing, said Ryosei Nomura, a spokesman. The Tokyo-based airline has five 787s and is due to receive 15 more by the end of March, 2013.

Commercial jets have traditionally been built from aluminum. While the 787’s new materials are intended to save weight and boost fuel efficiency, they also contributed to manufacturing difficulties that slowed the 787’s debut.

Boeing is continuing to assemble new 787s while working through a backlog of several dozen already-built Dreamliners that are being modified to reflect design changes in the months since they left the factory.

GE Engines

Albaugh declined to discuss the delay in testing of the second version of the 787, powered by General Electric Co. engines. Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney said in October that the GE model had completed 95 percent of the certification process. Boeing gave the same status on Jan. 25.

According to a report today in the Seattle Times, which cited a person the newspaper didn’t identify, the discovery of the 787 delamination held back some flight tests needed to certify the variant with GE engines.

Albaugh referred questions to David Joyce, the head of GE’s aviation business, who said the engines are ready to go and aren’t holding up certification. While the engines were certified separately last year, they still need to win Federal Aviation Administration approval in combination with the plane.

“The engines are working great,” Joyce said today. “They’re out here, they’re ready for delivery.”

Japan Airlines Co., the first carrier that will receive 787s with GE engines, said last week it now expects to get its initial plane next month.

The inspections were reported late Feb. 4 by the online trade publication Flightglobal.

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