The news that Boeing has yet more industrial partner problems with the 787 doesn’t come as a surprise.
Pre-Farnborough Air Show, the company revealed that there were shim issues from its Italian partner, Alenia. Two weeks ago we learned that there were additional issues with the Alenia-produced horizontal stabilizers, where additional gaps were discovered and the need for more shims to be manufactured to fill additional gaps.
While we were trying to confirm this with Boeing, Boeing Commercial CEO Jim Albaugh generally revealed the issue at an investors’ conference, noting that additional inspections were necessary. Albaugh didn’t go into detail.
Guy Norris of Aviation Week has a more thorough description in this report, but Boeing didn’t provide details to him, either. A Boeing corporate communications official could not verify that our information that some 50 shims per ship set were involved to fix the issue.
We’ve been told that all airplanes produced to date are affected; Boeing told us only one, airplane 22, was affected and a fix was done overnight. Boeing added that spot checks would be done on other airplanes; Albaugh’s statement to the investor’s conference and Norris’ report the inspections indeed appear to involve all airplanes, and our original source sticks to the assertion that all airplanes are involved. The source anticipates that an additional delay beyond January 2011 for first delivery is likely.
Our source tells us that gaps were discovered between the stabilizers and the adjoining structure and that shims must be added to fix it. This is different than the June discovery that shims were installed incorrectly by Alenia.
“When we inspect one problem, we find another. We when inspect another problem, we find another,” this source says. “None of these are show-stoppers by themselves, but the cumulative effect” is almost certain to further delay deliveries, this source believes.
“It is unknown to what extent the latest inspections are affecting flight tests of the first five flyable 787s, two of which are currently down for maintenance,” Boeing said in a communication to employees.
Boeing provided us this statement:
• Several weeks ago, we identified some workmanship issues at certain places on the horizontal stabilizer. We corrected those issues on flight test airplanes and are making changes as needed on production airplanes.
• As part of the resolution of these issues, Boeing conducted an assessment of Alenia’s manufacturing processes, which has resulted in the need to conduct some additional inspections on flight test and production airplanes. The inspections will verify Alenia’s production processes and workmanship are up to the Boeing standards.
• Based on what we’ve seen so far, we believe the inspections and any issues we find can be readily addressed. We are assessing the impact, if any, to our schedule.
• The team remains focused on delivering the first airplane in 2010 but as we’ve said before, delivery may move into early 2011.
“First delivery in January is a given,” said our source. “Some of us believe first delivery could slip to the second quarter.” For the moment, Boeing is sticking with its early 1Q worst-case forecast.