FAA responds to 787 fastener issue

When we were preparing our report about Boeing planning to operate its 787 flight testing program with some non-conforming fasterners still installed on the first six test aircraft, Boeing responded to our inquiries by noting that it worked with the FAA to ensure compliance with rules and safety.

In a routine action, we also inquired of the FAA. This was January 13; we published our story January 25, still awaiting the FAA response. We received that response today. Here are the questions we posed and the FAA’s answers:

Question: Boeing has decided to not replace some temporary
fasteners in Airplane #1 that will be used for first flight and
subsequent testing.   Some temporary fasteners will be
replaced.  We do not have information about quantities or
locations of either.  Following flight testing, Boeing’s plan
is to replace all remaining temporary fasteners during the
refurbishment of Test Planes prior to delivery to commercial
airlines.  Our questions are as follows:
a. Does the FAA have any opinion if flying a test airplane and
proceeding with a full testing program with temporary fasteners
is unusual/out of the ordinary, or if as an experimental/test
airplane this is acceptable?)
b. What safety issues and considerations may be involved?  Or to
put it another way, what specifically does Boeing have to do to
meet regulations that might permit such a scenario as outlined
above?

Answer (a): Actually, there are two separate fastener issues.
Temporary fasteners were installed as part the normal manufacturing
sequence, with the intent of replacing them later in the sequence,
before flight.  Boeing has confirmed that all of those fasteners will be
replaced prior to any flights of the flight test airplanes.  The other
issue is certain “non-conforming” fasteners.  These are fasteners that
were intended to be permanent, but there are discrepancies in fastener
design or installation.   As noted by Boeing, a small number of these
non-conforming fasteners will remain installed during the flight test
program.  After flight testing is complete, all these remaining
non-conforming fasteners will be removed and replaced with new
fasteners.

It is common for flight test airplanes to be in configurations that are
not completely in accordance with the “official” type design.  As part
of the preparation for flight test, the FAA works closely with the
applicant and ensures that the airplanes are safe for the flight test
program and that the differences from the actual design will not affect
the validity of the tests being performed.

Answer (b): For this small remaining number of non-conforming
fasteners, a detailed engineering review will be performed to assure
that fasteners are acceptable for use during the flight test program.
For example, some of the discrepancies only affect the long term life of
the fastener, not its strength.  In such a case, given the relatively
short duration of the flight test program, it may be determined that it
is acceptable to correct the non-conformance after completion of the
flight test program.  This engineering review will be fully coordinated
with the FAA prior to the start of the flight test program.  The steps
outlined above regarding addressing any remaining non-conforming
fasteners will be one of a series of specific actions taken to ensure
the flight test airplanes are in a safe and airworthy condition as
required by FAA regulations.

7 comments on “FAA responds to 787 fastener issue

  1. Very well done Scott. When you have time, I would appreciate an explanation of what these fasteners do, or relevant links. From what I can figure out, they have been common on aluminum planes for years, and are of varying sizes and strengths depending on what they are supposed to do. I also seem to remember Boeing’s making a claim that one advantage of the 787’s “baked” composite fusalage it that it needs many fewer fasteners. Have you heard anything like that?

    Chris

  2. Some fasteners are load-bearing and others are connectors. Metal airplanes have tens of thousands more fasteners than composite airplanes, but you still can’t eliminate fasteners in composite designs.

    Do a http://www.news.google.com search, or at the Seattle Times (which also searches the Seattle Post Intelligencer) and you can find many articles on fasteners. Ditto Flightblogger.

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  4. Hello Scott, Just a picky note. At the beginning of this report there is a were that should be a we.

    It throws one off as they begin to read the story.

    In addition, I believe there may be three different fastener issues. I don’t understand what the temporary fastener issue is but there was also the nut plate fastener that occurred around the same time as the composite fastener. I would like to know more about the nut plate fastener and what financial impact this is having. I believe this is a supply chain issue that will continue to plague the industry if not adequately addressed. Has it been adequately addressed? If so, what has Boeing done to prevent this type of issue from resurfacing?

  5. The “were/we” has been fixed; thanks for that.

    The nutplate issue involved the 737 and 777 (and maybe the 767/747-400, but memory is hazy on these two). Boeing hasn’t said what the financial impact on the nutplates is.

    All airplanes in production with nutplate issues have been fixed. Those delivered are likely to be fixed during maintenance cycles. There hasn’t been any public information about how much this costs and who pays for it; the problem apparently originated with Spirit Aerosystems.

    We have no data about the quality control issue fix you raise.

  6. A nutplate manufacturer used sustandard metal to fab the nut portion of the nutplate. He has been shut down. The entire indutry was told to purge all fasteners from this guy of all types and report how many and were they have been used. What a nighmare.

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