Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Boeing Co. ordered inspections of 787 Dreamliners after finding signs of delamination on the fuselage of the first passenger jetliner built chiefly of carbon-fiber composites.
There is no “short-term safety concern” from the fault, which was caused by an incorrect assembly in a support structure within the plane’s aft fuselage, Scott Lefeber, a spokesman, said yesterday in a statement. All Nippon Airways Co., the only operator of the 787, said it will continue flying the aircraft.
“We have this condition well-defined and we are making progress on the repair plan,” Lefeber said. Chicago-based Boeing declined to say how many jets showed signs of delamination, a term for the separation that can occur in a composite material when its layers crack and lose strength.
The new checks add to the challenges in boosting output of the twin-engine 787, which entered service in 2011 after more than three years of delays. The Dreamliner’s two deliveries in January were half a plane less than the current monthly production rate, which is due to reach 10 by the end of 2013.
The work that resulted in the delamination was traced to the assembly of the aft fuselage section at a plant near Charleston, South Carolina, Boeing said. It involved “improper shimming” of the support structure in that part of the plane.
Subcontractors use different techniques to make composite parts, which can result in issues for manufacturers, said Michel Merluzeau, an aviation consultant with G2 Solutions in Seattle. “Delamination is not like the aircraft is peeling” its skin, he said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with the design itself. This is a production issue that needs to be corrected. There’s no flight or safety issue.”
Boeing said it already notified the Dreamliner’s early customers “to ensure they are informed and aware of our plans to make repairs, should they be needed.”
ANA is awaiting more details from Boeing, said Ryosei Nomura, a spokesman. The Tokyo-based airline has five 787s and is due to receive 15 more by the end of March, 2013.
Separation of a jet’s composite skin is a risk unique to the Dreamliner because commercial jets have traditionally been built from aluminum. While the new materials are intended to save weight and boost fuel efficiency, they also contributed to manufacturing difficulties that slowed the 787’s debut.
Boeing is continuing to assemble new 787s while working through a backlog of several dozen already-built Dreamliners that are being modified to reflect design changes in the months since they left the factory.
The inspections were first reported by the online trade publication Flightglobal.
--With reporting by Chris Cooper and Kiyotaka Matsuda in Tokyo, Susanna Ray in Seattle and Peter J. Brennan in Los Angeles. Editors: Neil Denslow, Dave McCombs
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