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Business & Technology | Boeing finds another 787 manufacturing problem | Seattle Times Newspaper

February 5, 2012

Boeing has discovered a manufacturing error causing delamination in the plastic-composite aft fuselage section of some 787 Dreamliners, according to a person with knowledge of the problem. Boeing is inspecting all the airplanes already built to find the extent of the issue.

In a brief statement Sunday, Boeing said, “We have the issue well defined and are making progress on the repair plan. There is no short-term safety concern.”

Boeing’s statement didn’t acknowledge the issue involves delamination. It said unspecified damage resulted from “incorrect shimming … performed on support structure on the aft fuselage of some 787s.”

Mechanics install shims, or spacers, to fill small gaps that occur between parts that don’t fit together exactly.

An earlier problem arose in 2010 with faulty shimming by mechanics working for Alenia building the 787’s horizontal tail in Italy. They had applied too much torque when tightening fasteners and the consequent compression of the shims degraded the composite material.

At that time, those manufacturing quality issues with the horizontal tails added months of delays to the jet program. Many airplanes had to have their tails extensively reworked.

This time, the delamination is happening in a section of the aft fuselage near where the horizontal tail is joined.

The company has completed assembly of about 50 Dreamliners to date, and has delivered five.

Flightglobal, the Web site for Flight International magazine, reported Saturday that structural stiffening rods hardened together with the fuselage skin in massive ovens had partially separated from the skins.

The aft fuselage section is manufactured in Charleston, S.C., at the former Vought plant that Boeing took over in 2009.

On Sunday, Boeing played down the problem, saying that “repairs, should they be needed, will be implemented in the most efficient manner possible.”

However, if repairs are needed in a large number of planes, that could further slow the already sloth-like pace of deliveries.

According to the person with knowledge of the issue, any plane where this fault has been discovered is not allowed to operate beyond “limit load,” the term for the maximum load projected in normal service.

However, the planes must be certified to sustain 1.5 times that load, a standard called “ultimate load,” for certification and delivery.

The person said discovery of the problem held back some flight tests needed to certify the version of the Dreamliner fitted with GE engines. The initial model with Rolls-Royce engines is already certified.

Boeing did not provide detail beyond its short statement on the issue. It was left unclear whether the delamination has been found on any of the five Dreamliners already delivered and in passenger service for All Nippon Airways of Japan.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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