Thousands of fastener joints in each 787 wing require rework for lightning strike protection

LAN Boeing 787 Dreamliner ZA531

While removing and reapplying sealant to each 787 remains critical in preparing for delivery, the workmanship of its application is not the only item Boeing has identified for change inside the aircraft’s composite wings; a design change discovered in the fall of 2009 requires the removal and replacement of thousands of improperly coated fastener joints to ensure the majority-composite jetliner’s protection from lightning strikes.

The removal of the sealant will allow access to the thousands of wing fuel and hydraulic system fastener joints which were designed and installed with an improper coating, and have to be removed and replaced to meet US Federal Aviation Administration requirements for electromagnetic effects (EME) protection for lightning strikes.

Despite receiving wings from Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) with the correct sealant application “for a while” now, Boeing says it will be required to conduct “a significant amount of resealing work that needs to be accomplished on all 787 wings” as a result of the fastener joint changes.

A fastener joint is anywhere a fastener is used to join two pieces of hardware together, and in the case of the fuel system for example, says one engineer, includes brackets to a structure or a tube clamp to a bracket.

FAA requirements for EME protection as part of Part 25 Secton 954 and 981 require all joints and fasteners to be installed in a way that prevents any sparking within the fuel that could lead to a catastrophic ignition.

Because the 787′s structure is majority composite, which does not conduct electricity like traditional metals, Boeing has had to meticulously design the metallic parts in the aircraft, including the incorporation of an elaborate current return network, to prevent sparks and arcing, as well as withstand lightning strikes.

Those directly familiar with the issue say the test fleet of six 787 has the same configuration as those jet currently requiring rework, but did not need the fastener joint modifications prior to flying, as Boeing employs a fuel with anti-static additives for test flights preventing any possible spark.

In fact, ZA001, Boeing’s lead 787 test aircraft suffered a lightning strike in May 2010, with no trace of damage to the aircraft beyond instrumentation inside the right wing where the bolt was believe to have hit.

The issue was first discovered in fall 2009, when barely a handful of production 787s had entered final assembly. Boeing has continued deliveries to final assembly, pausing several times in 2010 to allow shipsets to arrive at a higher level of assembly completion, but opted to push the wing fastener joint rework to change incorporation after assembly, though wings with this design issue continue to arrive in Everett from Japan. 

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Wings
Today, more than 35 787s already delivered to Everett will require this rework, including test aircraft ZA004, ZA005 and ZA006, which will likely be refurbished and delivered as business jets. 
The airframer says it has “worked with MHI to develop a detailed plan to accomplish this work to ensure that airplanes already in production are brought up to standard and that future wings are delivered to Everett without the need for rework.”

The Seattle Times reported Tuesday that the process of removing and reapplying the sealant inside the wings of each 787 was “taking weeks per airplane” and was likely to slow the planned pace for 12 to 20 deliveries in 2011. 

The company is conducting 787 rework operations at Boeing ATS “Factory South”, The 40-24 Building inside the main Everett factory, as well at its Global Service & Support site in San Antonio, Texas.
Boeing says “the overall resealing work is well understood and already a part of the program’s plan.” Adding “this work was identified and planned for prior to the announcement of the program schedule” in January, which slid first delivery to Japan’s All Nippon Airways from early 2011 to the third quarter, following a fire aboard test aircraft ZA002 in November.

39 Responses to Thousands of fastener joints in each 787 wing require rework for lightning strike protection

  1. David Parker Brown April 27, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    Why are only the fasteners in the wings affected? Because of the fuel locations?


  2. SomeoneInToulouse April 27, 2011 at 3:20 am #

    *Even more* fastener rework?!

    Personally, I wouldn’t be comfortable taking one of these early ships after they’ve seen a few thousand flights…

  3. Bob April 27, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    Why does this saga look more and more like a bad B-comedy movie?

  4. CBL April 27, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    The nightmare continues.

    It is outstanding to witness the regularity at which Boeing is doing all and every errors that are possible with the realization of this program.

    This is going to be a case study at management schools for years to come!

  5. OV-099 April 27, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Hi Jon, perhaps you could ask Jim M. the question if it would not have been significantly less costly for Boeing to have stopped 787 production entirely until the aircraft was ready for mass production?

  6. John S. April 27, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    I thought the 787 was the first commercial airliner to include nitrogen inerting of its fuel tanks. Doesn’t this provide the desired level of arcing protection?

  7. LongTimeObserver April 27, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    More ‘game changing’ cottage industry manufacturing techniques from the industry leader…

  8. Paul April 27, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    @John S.:
    Inerting is only required for the center tank.

  9. Denti April 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    @John S.: Nitrogen inerting is standard on all 737s already, at least for the last 4 or 5 years. Dunno about other planes though. As far as i remember Boeing tried to build the 787 so it does not need an additional system to keep the fuel tanks save.

  10. Tim Raetzloff April 27, 2011 at 1:02 pm #


    You report now that when ZA001 was hit by lightning May 27, 2010 it had damage to the right wing instrumentation. Your link to the report at the time says that Boeing declared no damage at all. You quoted Mike Delaney’s confidence that he was eager for the plane to be hit many times by lightning to give the rest of us the confidence that he had in its ability to absorb a lightning hit.

    But immediately after that lightning hit ZA001 stayed on the ground for most of 7 weeks. I can document the dates if you need me to. There was major instrumentation replacement; you reported it. Both engines were replaced during those 7 weeks; I believe you reported that too. This for a plane that had not been damaged. After that lightning strike Boeing’s policy became that lightning would be avoided, and that lightning tests would be run on the ground. Have those tests been run?

    I think there is strong reason to believe that the 787 is not as lightning worthy as it should be. Weight considerations, and possibly cost, limited the size of the copper Faraday cage inside the plastic. Lightning tests should have been one of the first tests run, not the last.

  11. iamlucky13 April 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    I’m reluctantly going to have to concur with CBL on this one – I genuinely thought Boeing and their partners had run out of mistakes available to be made on the 787, but they’ve shown a remarkable ability to surprise us all.

    OV-099 – generally yes, but there’s multiple partners and lots of lower level suppliers involved that are already struggling because of the stuttering pace of the program and the unexpectedly low rate at which they’re delivering and getting paid for parts.

  12. 27w9 April 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    From my recent comment on Dominic Gates’ story in the Seattle Times –


    In 1954, the late great lawyer Joseph Welch uttered these words in a much different context, but they still apply: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

  13. OV-099 April 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Most, if not all of the tier-2 and tier-3 suppliers on the 787 are suppliers to not only A & B, but to the other OEMs as well. For example, the suppliers could have had their 787 workers’ work hours reduced (probably done already), and most, if not all of them could have been temporarily reshuffled to other programs that have the same type of sub-systems etc. Also, Boeing could have helped covering some of the 787-related capital costs for tier-2 and tier-3 supplier during a prolonged 787 production stand down in order for them to have agreed to such a drastic course of action. It seems to me that the current modus operandi was not the wisest course of action.

  14. johnny stick April 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm #

    I wonder if the Boeing execs still feel the same about ramping up production while flight test is going on? If production was slowed until flight test was over, would these problems have come to light? I guess we will see what lessons were learnt when the new 737 starts pre production.

  15. Hugh Jampton April 28, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    I certainly won’t be getting on one of these plastic things.

    I won’t be getting on a 737-300 either.

  16. Wes April 28, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    This aircraft program has been the ultimate example of incompetence from top to bottom. 3 years late and they cant get it right yet.

  17. Wilbur Wrong Way Corrigan April 28, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Sadly, the 787 project has gone from drama to farce.

    There are no words to describe what we are witnessing.

  18. johnny stick April 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    In response to Wilbur, we are witnessing a birth of a new generation of large composite airliners. Unfortuneatly, I think the challenge was underestimated. But unlike the Dehavillan Comet, I think this child will have a long life. I can’t wait to see its siblings, (maybe named BWB?)

  19. bradmovie April 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    Jon, while Boeing claims they have already accounted for these fastener issues in their last public delivery schedule, do you know if these fastener repairs are included in the existing list of hundreds of thousands of change items for the fleet?

    It would be interesting to get an update on exactly how many changes and how long they will take for each aircraft. It’s not that I don’t trust Boeing’s math…

    Also, is Boeing REALLY delivering new 767-300s with metal shavings in the fuel tanks? Whatever happened to QC?

    I’m afraid that in the mad rush to maximize profit, Boeing is losing the edge that made it so successful.

  20. iamlucky13 April 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    OV-099 – Yes. For some this is no doubt sufficient. For others, it may not be.

    I won’t try to argue this really was the best course of action, but I assume they didn’t make such decisions idly.

    I’m increasing unsure it’s safe to make such assumptions, but lacking any other info…

  21. RC20 April 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Just when you think its safe to go back in the water.

    And then, oh by, the way, the structure is flawed and we will replace that, and darned if the landing gear structure has a small problem, but we will fix that in re-work, and while we are at it, the nose will be cut off and redone, and……..

    So we crank out flawed aircraft in out state of this is not the art production, and feed them into another factory that fixes them, which feeds into another factory that fixes the latest things we find worn…..and then there is the factory that fixes the ones that are sold and flying, but need a few more things done….

    The machinist have nothing to worry about, they will have like 6 lines in Everett before this is all over.

    Maybe the theme song need to be “Somewhere, over the Rainbow”

  22. Dinant van den Belt April 28, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    I came across this article:

    This mentions the replacement of fasteners in november 2008, due to spark hazard, leaving me with only one conclusion: these fastener replacement is the 3th or even 4th time.
    In my opinion a coating on a fastener to avoid sparks will never work, coating layers are that thin, it won’t be a 100% solution

  23. Claveman April 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    So many of the above comments apear to be from people who really have no clue as to what it takes to build an airplane….

    I would like to see how many of you could build a house…first time around….and without any mistakes?

    I would suspect that a lot of instruments that were replaced in the wing because of the strike were most likely part of flight test and not normally present on a production aircraft.

    This is bleeding edge technology. There will be blood….such is the nature of the beast.

  24. airplanejim April 29, 2011 at 1:39 am #

    OV-099 your suggestion that an aircraft company should design and build a test fleet of a new airplane and then stop production until the end of flight test has a few problems. What do you do with the people that built the test fleet while waiting for completion of flight test? Do you fire them? If you didn’t build concurrently at a slow rate you would be another two years after the finish of flight test before the first production aircraft would be finished. And since there would be a two year break you would have to hire an entirely new work force and lose the production knowledge you gained from the flight test aircraft. Believe me the cost of retrofit is much less costly than a two year gap in production. And that doesn’t even take into account the cost of money for the two year wait with no income. Every airplane company builds while flight test is underway.

  25. Solferino Lombardi April 29, 2011 at 5:19 am #

    Well, this bolt replacement campaign isn’t a “disaster beyond all expectations”.
    But as certification and delivery of the Boeing 787 are slipping further and further behind, there will gradually arise more troubles. For example, little suppliers will go bankrupt, and the already existing forward loss position of the 787 program will widen by the day. The last number in discussion for break-even of the 787 program was 1,300 aircraft, due to development cost overruns and numerous delays. But in light of one more delay this certainly won’t remain the last number. Boeing does not even have a backlog of this size, quite to the contrary, customers have already started to cancel their orders again. The 787 backlog is down by 35 aircraft from the 910 firm orders already booked until 2008.

  26. Wilbur Wrong Way Corrigan April 29, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    You’re right – I don’t know how to build an airplane, but at this point, neither does Boeing.

  27. Wes April 29, 2011 at 1:54 pm #

    Boeing has damaged it’s formerly nearly flawless reputation down to that of a joke with this program. They had better not screw up the 797 like this or the last person out of the building will need to turn off the lights for good. Perhaps the could change the 787 name to Vega, or even Corvair.

  28. Wilbur Wrong Way Corrigan April 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Hey, you forgot the Cadillac V8-6-4, and AMC’s Matador and Pacer.

  29. dopydem April 29, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    With all the “woe is me” and “Boeing is doomed” and “management is incompetent”, has anyone been watching the stock market lately. It seems investors don’t agree with all the dooms day talk on this blog.

  30. OV-099 April 29, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    airplanejim, I’m not suggesting that the standard operating procedure for a new LCA program at an OEM should be like that. However, the 787 program constitutes a paradigm shift for Boeing where everything is different. As is well known, the company didn’t follow industrial best-practice recommendations suggesting that new products should use existing processes and tools, the existing organization and demonstrated technologies.

    When Boeing’s management realised, or should have realised, around the time of that ill-advised rollout, that the 787 would not only require far more time to reach product maturity, but also that substantial modification would be required to the early units produced in addition to all of the frames being produced concurrently with flight testing, somebody should have held up a red card and stopped the nonsense of publicly pretending that salvation was “just around the corner”.

    IMHO, moving everything to the right by at least 24 months back in 2007 would have saved Boeing billions of dollars. Also, I’ve already explained what I would have done with the people working the program at Boeing and at the suppliers (i.e. reshuffling and shorter work hours etc.), and finally; extraordinary measures are usually required when extraordinary challenges go haywire.

  31. alloycowboy April 30, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    The good news for Boeing is they now have gone up the learning curve for designing and building a full composite commercial aircraft. The bad news for Airbus is they still have to go up that exact same learning curve.

  32. goat herder April 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    There was ample opportunity prior to the rollout for the program – and the company – to say “stop, we need to get this right.” I know – I was in there. Not surprisingly, the master schedules that were released were based on theoretical 100% success of every system, every component. However, engineering changes were lined up by the hundreds even before rollout – and they were being deferred. Why? The program costs were becoming quite evident internally to the company. Why…..why……why did it end up this way? Simple: Don’t rock the boat when the stock price was over $100/share. Do you know how many employees (both executive and non-executive) had their retirement and 401k’s tied to Boeing stock back in 2005-2008? Worse yet, the cost overruns were tied up in hidden file folders titled “cost reduction”. The profit margin on the program would be determined not by how much the program actually was costing, but by how much cost reduction could be achieved. Anyway, I hope for the company and the employees still there (not me) that this thing is successful.

  33. SDFlight May 1, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    No they don’t have to, they’ve already done it in the past 20 years. They made the basic development concerning CFRP from the introduction of the A300-600′s CFRP VTP up to the CFRP CWB of the A380 nowadays. Airbus made small steps and Boeing slept, now they try to catch up at once, and get the bill

  34. airplanejim May 2, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    OV-099, I would appreciate your tell me where those best practices are published. If we went by those best practices there would be no innovation or cutting edge products. We would have never gone to the moon, built the SR-71, etc. Boeing is building a commercial aircraft from a new material with new tooling, processes and new technology.
    As for the problems that were encountered, they didn’t all happen on 7/8/07. The multiply delays were the result of sequential problems and discoveries being made after that date. During that time the production rate was kept low and even stopped on several occasions to minimize the number of units produced. In the end you can’t stop production for years until flight test is completed and expect to keep the production knowledge. As for shorter work hours, I think the IAM might have something to say about that.
    There are less than 40 aircraft to retrofit out of almost 900 ordered. I believe the fact that all aircraft manufacturers build while flight testing shows that the cost of retrofitting is less than the cost of waiting years for the first sale to produce cash flow.

  35. Napoleon Bonaparte May 4, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    This is not a moon shot or an exotic military aircraft like the SR71 (retired with no official replacement and we have not succeeded in getting back to the moon for 40 years). This is not bleeding edge technology where blood should be spilled. The 787 is to provide SAFE affordable mass public transport. Innovation in public air transport is incremental to ensure it remains safe – not by going out on a limb by changing absolutely everything at the same time. Boeing have been building passenger jets for 60 years – not building a house for the first time. Yet the knowledge and experience of what works gained by hard work over 100 years of aeronautical experience has been thrown in the bin.

    These issues and particularly the wing centre box will be used mercilessly by all product liability lawyers if this aircraft ever flies and has any problems. Boeing’s own lawyers must all have gone long ago – Boeing obviously don’t even know what Product Liability is any more. The action taken to lighten the wing centre box because the aircraft was too heavy was like saying this suspension bridge is too heavy so let’s reduce the weight and strength of the support cables.

    All part and parcel of the epidemic and infestation of insanity and anti-civilisation which has been gleefully invading the globe since 2001.

    Cock up theory yet again? No, Shakespeare said it over 400 years ago: “Oh these deliberate fools, When they do choose, They have the wisdom by their wit To lose”.

    Industrial sabotage – yet again. Boeing management and the FAA should all be prosecuted for conspiracy to destroy the company and hence defraud customers, employees and investors.

  36. OV-099 May 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    airplanejim, I’d suggest that you do a little research on your own. You can start here:

    In costly aerospace development programs, at least one should try to stick to one or two of the above mentioned best-practice recommendations. For the 787, if Boeing had kept the existing organization (i.e. by not letting tier-1 contractors do critical design work etc.), the 787 program would “only” have been high risk in the “tech department”. By letting tier-1 contractors do BOTH critical design work AND manufacturing; IMHO Boeing set itself up for failure.

    As for the Apollo program and the SR-71; no, they are not comparable at all. NASA was given more than enough resources to do the job, thanks partly to then administrator, the late James Webb who recommended that JFK should ask the Congress for plenty more funds over the course (R&D phase) of the Apollo program than what was envisaged in 1961 for the program to be successful. However, the Apollo program was a HIGH risk undertaking. For example, the Lunar Module’s ascent stage only had ONE combustion chamber, and Apollo 8 had no Lunar Module docked which could have served as a life-boat in the event of a Service Module breakdown (etc., etc.). The Skunk Works’ developed SR-71 was a high speed, high risk, hugely expensive government developed spy plane with a much higher mission failure rate than what is tolerable for a passenger carrying civilian airliner. So, you see, best practice recommendations are usually not applicable for 100 percent government supported cutting edge high-tech programs such as the Manhattan project and the Apollo program. As a side note, the Space Shuttle was designed by (a Congressional-) committee, and was inadequately funded during the development phase. That “committee” forced NASA to go with “re-usable” segmented Solid Rocket Motors (cause of the Challenger accident) and an expendable External Tank with cryogenic insulation on the outside (cause of the Columbia accident).

    As for the 787; the 800+ orders have been more of a liability due to the fact that Boeing has had to pay out billions in compensation. If most of those 800 orders, on the other hand, would have been signed AFTER the program officially went off tracks, then you would have had a somewhat more rosier situation for Boeing as far as their financials are concerned.

    Keeping an army of workers occupied by doing seemingly an endless amount of re-work is not only hugely expensive and idiotic — when better planning and a different organization would have mostly pre-emptied the problem and difficulties on the 787 program (i.e. Boeing doing most if not all of the CRITICAL design work themselves) — but it’s also a waste of energy and bad for the moral of the company and its workers.

  37. John S May 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

    What a farse with the centre wing box.OK everyone finds a/c over weight at the out set. But to start taking weight out with the wing box. It’s going to be buried for 30 odd years. So they took out some weight then found it ‘moved around’ in the rig. The senseable thing to do was leave it alone. but, no. it was ‘beefed up’ no doubt leaving it still ‘heavy’. What was the cost of beefing it up when it must been cheaper to have left it alone. A kid of 10 could have worked that one out. Boeing bit off more than it could chew when attempting build an all composite a/c in a short time scale. Airbus have, in increments, been building composite a/c for over 20 years. In spite of all the hype will this a/c ever be a commercial sucess? Only time will tell. Like 15/20 years. I think they started too late and will never recover. Even if they ‘nicked’ Airbus technolgy they are still 20 odd years behind Airbus. The horse has bolted!!.

  38. John May 11, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    Someone amonst all this diatribe suggested Airbus had to go down the same learning curve (ie building kelvar A/C.) For the uniatated Airbus have building these a/c for over 20 years, doing it in stagers. Boeing have lived on their laurels for too long and will pay the penalty with their pathetic attempt at producing an all composit a/c.You can’t overnight produce an ‘Airbus’. They have bit on more than they can chew! They had better get it riight, or it will be a meger failure.

  39. John May 11, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    After building susseful a/c for decades, Boeing decide to out shop design p1 ans p2. Too save money? Well try having an accident or a simulare situation. Yes, they lost control, if they’d kept it in house things could have been different. They assumed too much and took their eye off the ball. Well now their paying the penalty.The joke is they bragged that when testing 787 fusealrge they stopped the test for fear the test equipment would fail!