But Says Company Remains On Track For Rollout
We're less than one month away
before the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner is scheduled to be rolled
out in a flashy public ceremony, and the planemaker admits it has
run into some snags as it builds the first-ever composite-bodied
The Associated Press reports Boeing workers in Everett, WA are
wrestling with fuselage sections that don't line up properly, as
well as an industrywide shortage of fasteners to hold the plane
together. Despite the seriousness of those issues, however, Boeing
says it remains on-track for the rollout... and the planemaker is
resolving problems as quickly as they arise.
Take, for example, the 0.3-inch gap that cropped up between the
Section 41 nose/cockpit barrel (shown at right), manufactured by
Spirit Aerosystems, and the Section 43 forward cabin barrel
produced by Kawasaki Heavy Industries when the two pieces were
mated for the first time. The Spirit-made piece bulged out further
than the section behind it.
Boeing says it was able to fix the error safely, eliminating the
gap. "The join in those pictures is now resolved," 787 program
spokeswoman Yvonne Leach told The Seattle Times. "It's not a
Another spokesperson, Mary Hanson, echoed that sentiment. "It
wasn't a perfect go-together the first time," she said. "There were
a few challenges. We overcame them. In general, [Boeing's
engineers] are pleased with how all the joints are going."
Sam Marnick, spokesperson for Spirit, called the gap "a slight
fit issue with the first barrel -- nothing unusual with a new
program." She added the issue "was quickly resolved and we learned
as we moved onto the next one."
Such gaps aren't unusual when fitting sections of
aluminum-bodied planes together, industry observers note, even
planes that have been in production for years.
Considering the all-new build processes involved with the 787,
however, including digital design software shared by all suppliers
to keep tolerances in line -- and composite construction doesn't
lend itself to the traditional "hammer-it-out" solution common with
aluminum -- observers are keeping a close eye on the possibility of
larger problems down the road.
TECOP International technical consultant Hans Weber, after
reviewing photos of the gap sent anonymously to The Times, said he
sees no cause for immediate alarm.
"It doesn't strike me as all that unexpected," Weber said. "In
the process of putting those splice plates on one side, they
distorted the structure a bit. That's not unusual. The structure
distorts fairly readily."
Those problems may be corrected, Weber added, by disconnecting
interior fittings such as floor struts and other supports that put
pressure on the outer shell of the fuselage. Once the sections are
pulled into alignment, those fittings are bolted back down.
Such a solution is a universal constant in plane manufacturing,
regardless of whether the aircraft is metal or composite.
A possible cause for additional concern, though, is the early
fuselage sections came without much of the wiring and hydraulics
expected on later shipments pre-installed by suppliers. Boeing is
handling those assemblies in Everett on the first few birds... and
pre-installation of those additional fittings may lead to more
distortions down the line, which may not be as relatively easy to
Another issue Boeing has come across are dings to the first
plane's horizontal stabilizer assembly, which the planemaker
believes is due to improper handling during shipment from Italy's
Alenia Aeronautica to Everett.
The company is maintaining a close watch of quality control
throughout its supplier network. Last week, The Seattle
Post-Intelligencer reported Ted Perdue, vice president of 787
operations for Vought Aircraft in Charleston, SC, resigned after
reports surfaced analysts had found the plant to be less impressive
than those of other 787 suppliers.
And then there's the issue of fasteners, used to attach sections
of the Dreamliner -- and other commercial airliners -- together.
Boeing admits the problem has proven to be a bigger issue than
first thought, as such fasteners are in high demand due to boom
times in the commercial airline industry.
"We were surprised at how much detailed management we had to do
on all of those little fasteners to get them here, but we are
getting them here," said 787 development and production VP Scott
Strode to the Post-Intelligencer.
For the moment, though, Boeing remains optimistic it won't
encounter deal-breaking problems as the first 787 comes
The planemaker also stresses should such a problem come up, the
company will report it immediately -- aware of the fallout its
European rival, Airbus, experienced after problems with wiring
connections on its A380 superjumbo were made public, weeks after it
appeared the company was aware of them.