From the Editor: Grounded

July 31, 2009
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Days before it was to take its first flight, The Boeing Co. announced in late June that the 787 Dreamliner debut would be delayed yet again.

During testing of the aircraft’s structure, it was discovered that reinforcement is needed where the wings attach to the fuselage. Reinforcement is needed for 36 small areas, each only an inch or two long.

Scott Carson, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes said that a team of experts has already identified several potential solutions.

“Consideration was given to a temporary solution that would allow us to fly as scheduled, but we ultimately concluded that the right thing was to develop, design, test and incorporate a permanent modification to the localized area requiring reinforcement. Structural modifications like these are not uncommon in the development of new airplanes, and this is not an issue related to our choice of materials or the assembly and installation work of our team,” Carson said.

Boeing executives said that the problem would be fixed using titanium or metal parts, no larger than the size of a hand, at the critical points.

This setback is the latest delay for the Dreamliner which had an original maiden-voyage flight scheduled for late summer 2007.

The Dreamliner, largely made of composite materials-including the fuselage and wings-is designed to be more fuel efficient and more comfortable that any plane of its size.

Boeing outsourced much of the design and manufacturing to companies around the globe. The supply chain may not have been monitored closely enough.

Previous delays included a shortage of some parts throughout the supply chain as well as an eight-week strike by machinists last fall. During routine inspections last November it was discovered that thousands of fasteners had been incorrectly installed, which forced rechecks.

At press time, Boeing hadn’t announced a new time frame for the Dreamliner’s maiden voyage, but a report in the Seattle Times said two engineers with knowledge of the problem estimate that flight is four to six months away.

The engineers also indicated the problem is not as straightforward to fix as Boeing executives have let on. The engineers claim that a thorough redesign of the plane’s wing-to-body joint is necessary and that parts will be difficult to install on the test planes that have already been built. In the interest of fairness, it should be pointed out that other reports have said the credibility of these engineers is questionable.

Regardless of these reports in the news and the counterpoints, the bigger question is whether these continued delays will tarnish Boeing’s reputation? Or with a project of this magnitude, are the delays expected and routine?

Share your thoughts with me at campbellg@bnpmedia.com or with other readers on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1876808.

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