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Boeing delays 787 Dreamliner again after test engine breaks apart

August 27, 2010|By Dominic Gates

Reporting from Seattle —

Boeing Co. has announced yet one more delay for its new 787 Dreamliner, already more than two years behind schedule. It now won't be delivered before mid-February.

The new delay is largely because of the failure of a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 test engine, which broke apart internally while being run on a ground-test stand at the engine maker's plant in Derby, England, this month.

Since that failure was first reported on the website of Flight International trade magazine last week, both Boeing and Rolls-Royce Group have declined to comment on the report's assertions that the failure resulted in parts of the engine innards penetrating the casing around the engine — a dangerous occurrence referred to as an "uncontained failure."

An uncontained failure in flight could potentially bring down an airplane. If it happened during testing, the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory agencies would certainly require extensive testing to find out why and want further verification of any fix before the engine could be certified.

Boeing spokesman Jim Proulx said Thursday night that only Rolls-Royce would provide details of the engine failure. Rolls-Royce did not return phone calls inquiring about the problem's extent.

Bloomberg News quoted Rolls-Royce spokesman Josh Rosenstock this week saying that when the test engine blew, "limited debris [was] released into the test facility." He said the test facility had to be shut down for "minor repairs."

Boeing's Proulx was clear that the engine blowout was at the heart of the delay.

"That engine was one of the engines scheduled to support testing later in the program," Proulx said. "The corrective action associated with that failure has contributed to the engine challenges that we now assess are affecting the flight test program."

In July, Boeing said poor workmanship on 787 horizontal tails built by Italian partner Alenia might cause first delivery to slip into the first weeks of 2011.

Boeing said Thursday that the engine problem "extended that estimate to mid-first quarter 2011."

The first Dreamliner originally was to be delivered in May 2008.

Kenya Airways Chief Executive Titus Naikuni told trade magazine Air Transport World late Thursday that the carrier might cancel its order for nine 787s and buy Airbus A330s instead.

"If [Boeing] can't deliver, we will cancel." Naikuni told the magazine. "We will take a decision … before the end of the year."

Gates writes for the Seattle Times/McClatchy.

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