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Boeing halts work on flawed 787 component

The company's Italian production partner stops making the barreled pieces of the Dreamliner's midsection after a defect is found in the manufacturing process.

August 15, 2009|Sholnn Freeman | Freeman writes for the Washington Post.

Boeing says it has halted production of large fuselage sections for the 787 Dreamliner, the latest problem for a delay-plagued airplane that the aerospace giant is counting on to be its next big moneymaker.

Analysts have described the design of the 787 as revolutionary, due in large part to the use of advanced composite materials aimed at making the plane lighter and more fuel-efficient. But the design, coupled with a production shift that relies heavily on outside vendors, has put the 787 nearly two years behind schedule.

Boeing is the world's largest aircraft manufacturer and a giant of industrial America. Tens of thousands of U.S. production jobs are tied to its production lines, making Boeing so big that a strike last year contributed to the steepest monthly drop in U.S. industrial production in 34 years.

Lori Gunter, a Boeing spokeswoman, said Italian production partner Alenia Aeronautica had stopped making the barreled pieces of the 787's midsection because of a flaw in the manufacturing process. The flaw caused microscopic wrinkles in structural supports, called stringers, that run the length of the airframe.

So far, Alenia has made flawed components for 23 airplanes. The pieces are currently scattered at different points along the company's far-flung global production line.

Boeing has developed a patch made of composite materials to repair the existing plane sections, Gunter said. Newer sections will be made using a different manufacturing process, she added.

She said workers at the Grottaglie, Italy, plant that builds the components would focus on other 787 work until the manufacturing changes were made.

"From the company's standpoint, this is not a big problem at all," Gunter said. "This is the kind of thing you find on a brand-new production system."

Boeing shares fell $1.75, or about 3.8%, on Friday to $44.87.

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