All six Boeing 787s slated to be test airplanes in the certification program will retain an undisclosed number of temporary fasteners, we’ve learned.
Temporary fasteners became a cause célèbre, it will be remembered, when Airplane #1 used for the July 8, 2007, roll-out to an international media extravaganza was revealed to have thousands of temporary fasteners as a result of a shortage of the proper fasteners. This required non-standard ones be used to assemble the display airplane.
Since then, fasteners have been a continuing source of frustration for Boeing. Shortages, followed by incorrect installation at the Global Aeronautica industrial partner and then the revelation that thousands of them were designed incorrectly and have to be removed and replaced, adding further delays to the program.
Boeing is under intense pressure to get the 787 program moving. It’s announced a second quarter first flight and a first quarter 2010 first delivery. Internally, the first flight is reported to be April 20 (source: Air Transport World), though it may be a few days later on the internal schedule. The company has a timeline of eight months for the flight testing, which would take it to the end of the year in time for a 1Q10 first delivery. Aerospace analysts are largely in agreement that the flight testing will take a year (Airbus plans on a 15 month testing period for its A350).
Although Boeing wants a first flight toward the end of April, its labor unions and many inside Boeing, as well as others, are skeptical this will happen, saying “everything” has to “go right” for this to occur.
Replacing fasteners is taking longer than expected and involve more than originally thought. One executive familiar with the situation tells us that there were twice as many incorrectly designed fasteners as thought at one of the industrial partners that had to be replaced.
As for those remaining in the test airplanes, Boeing told us:
“The small number of fasteners that won’t be replaced are 1: not easy to reach AND (not OR) 2: don’t represent a safety of flight issue. They have the ability to withstand the loads and number of cycles expected during the flight test program. They must be repaired before long-term operations begin so they will be replaced during the refurbishment program after flight test.”
Boeing declined to quantify what percentage of fasteners is involved or where they are in the airplane. In confirming that all six test airplanes are involved, Boeing also said that the number of fasteners declines from Airplane 1 through Airplane 6.
“The majority of all discrepant fastener installations on 787s will be repaired prior to the flight test program,” Boeing told us. “A limited number of fastener installations will not repaired prior to flight test but will be repaired during the post-flight test refurbishment program. Analysis has been performed to validate the safety of the airplane for the flight test program.These assessments have been made in accordance with all Boeing and FAA requirements and procedures.”
How important is this? It depends on who you talk to.
Boeing’s engineer union, SPEEA, thinks all the fasteners should be replaced before test flights begin. Two aviation engineers we spoke to have split opinions; neither is employed by Boeing, Airbus or any of their suppliers.
One believes this is no big deal in a test program, on the assumption that engineering validation has been completed and the Federal Aviation Administration signs off. A test pilot we talked to agrees, on the same assumptions.
The second engineer we spoke with has a different view.
“I think would be very stupid of Boeing as it is not just a test aircraft, but is part of the certification aircraft series and would be non-conforming if using temporary fasteners besides any unknown flight test risks. The FAA should or could put a stop to it, by refusing to use it as flight test certification aircraft until conformity requirements are meet.”