Executives of Boeing ( (BA)
) say they know how to fix the structural problem that sidelined the much delayed 787 Dreamliner's planned first flight last month. But they decline for now to say when they'll put the plane in the air. And engineers are telling The Seattle Times
the costly fix may put off the maiden voyage until next year.
Boeing executives, in a note released before they discussed their July 22 earnings release with analysts, suggested they had figured out how to solve the problem that afflicts the high-tech composite used in the wings on the jet. They are reviewing alternatives on how best to put the fix in place and don't expect to update Boeing watchers on the plane's prospects for a few months yet.
Engineers said to be knowledgeable about the problem told the Seattle newspaper
that the solution will take at least three months to install on a nonflying test plane in the company's factory in Everett, Wash. Then it will take another month or two to put it into a plane scheduled to fly. The engineers told the paper that the installation will be difficult on planes that have already been built—a claim that conflicts with the "simple modification" Boeing executives suggested would be needed back in June
The newspaper reported that the problems that have shown up in the tests so far involve a "delamination" of the plastic composite used in the wing that takes place when the plane is put under high stress. The potential fix involves making a U-shaped cutout in the material and adding titanium fasteners. If the fix doesn't work, delays in the plane could push a first flight further into 2010, the paper reports.
New Schedule by September?
said in his July 22 discussion with analysts that the Dreamliner team has identified a technical solution that is "straightforward" and involves a small number of parts that would be installed to reinforce the trouble spot. The team is now trying to figure out the best way to implement the fix and is proceeding with "an abundance of caution." "Much to our disappointment, the 787 continues to challenge us." McNerney said. Boeing "will not sacrifice quality for expediency."
McNerney said officials likely would share a final plan for the first flight later this quarter, suggesting a schedule of some sort may be released by the end of September. "We are learning from our lessons on this program," he added, apparently alluding to outsourcing issues that have snarled the jet's development. Boeing will not balk at "redrawing some lines that were established when we first started."
For the quarter ended June 30, Boeing reported earnings of $998 million, up 17% from $852 million during the same period last year. Revenue rose only 1%, to $17.15 billion. Commercial plane revenues slid 2%, to $8.4 billion, while defense revenues rose 9%, to $8.7 billion.