Boeing sees 787 check slowing work


BY SUSANNA RAY
AND ED DUFNER

BLOOMBERG NEWS

SEATTLE — Boeing said Monday that 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 in 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 in Mukilteo, near the planemaker's wide-body jet factory in Everett.

"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, S.C., Boeing said Sunday. 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."

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."

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.