IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Flaws halt work on Boeing 787 sections

The Chicago-based airplane maker says it has found microscopic wrinkles in the skin of the 787's fuselage and is installing a patch.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Boeing Co. has discovered another problem with its long-delayed 787 jetliner, prompting the aircraft maker to halt production of fuselage sections at a factory in Italy.

The Chicago-based company found microscopic wrinkles in the skin of the 787’s fuselage and ordered Italian supplier Alenia Aeronautica to stop making sections on June 23, spokeswoman Lori Gunter said Friday. Boeing has started patching the areas.

The plane, built for fuel efficiency from lightweight carbon composite parts, is a priority for Boeing as it struggles with dwindling orders amid the global recession.

It remains unclear how the latest 787 glitch will affect the airplane’s inaugural test flight and deliveries. Production has been fraught with problems. Ill-fitting parts and other difficulties have hampered the process and cast doubt on Boeing’s strategy of relying on overseas suppliers to build big sections of the aircraft before assembling them at its facilities near Seattle.

In June, Boeing postponed the plane’s first test flight and deliveries for a fifth time because of a separate structural problem.

Before that delay, customers had expected the first of the new jets in the first quarter of 2010 — nearly two years behind schedule. The delays have cost Boeing credibility and billions of dollars in anticipated expenses and penalties.

Boeing has not announced a revised schedule, but Gunter said that would happen before the end of September. Some airlines have been forced to cancel or postpone plans to buy new 787s. Orders for 72 of the planes were canceled this year through Aug. 11.

The mid-size aircraft is designed to carry 210 to 330 passengers and includes wider seats and aisles, larger windows and a ventilation system that will allow for higher humidity, all of which Boeing says will make the cabin more comfortable.

Alenia Aeronautica, a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, has been building fuselages for the plane at a specially built factory in Grottaglie, Italy. From there, the fuselages are shipped to a plant in Charleston, S.C. aboard a modified 747.

The latest problem consists of tiny wrinkles in the fuselage skin on either side of the plane, just behind the wings. To repair them, new layers of carbon composite material are being added to a 787 at the South Carolina factory. Twenty-two other planes also must be patched, at the South Carolina plant and at factories in Everett, Wash., and Italy.

“In two areas on the fuselage, the structure doesn’t have the long-term strength that we want,” Boeing’s Gunter said.

Boeing is designing a permanent fix to the wrinkle problem so future versions of the plane won’t have to be modified. The existing fuselage wrinkles, she said, will not compromise the flight safety of the 787s.

The company’s June 23 order for Alenia to stop producing fuselage barrels came the same day as Boeing’s announcement that it was further postponing the 787 because of another structural problem, but Gunter said that was coincidental.

Boeing said tests had shown it needed to reinforce areas where the plane’s wings join the fuselage.

Shares of Boeing slid $1.75 or 3.75 percent, to close at $44.87.