Fasteners continue to plague 787 programme

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On-going replacement of thousands of fasteners on the Boeing 787 has frozen the production line, as the airframer conducts a formal assessment of the programme's schedule, including a timeline for first flight and delivery.

Though a revised 787 schedule for the start of the flight test programme is yet to be determined, Boeing is focusing its efforts for the remainder of the year on providing a clean bill of structural health to Dreamliner One.

Boeing declined to comment on the pace of the on-going schedule assessment.

According to sources familiar with the fastener replacement timeline, the expected completion of the fix for Dreamliner One should come by the end of December.

Yet, the on-going fastener replacement is reverberating down the assembly line. Everett, Washington-based sources add that no production airframe movements are scheduled for the remainder of the year, resulting in final assembly start for Dreamliner Five, the first General Electric GEnx powered 787, being pushed into 2009.

However, late last week, ZY998, the fatigue test airframe, exited Building 40-24 for the paint shop. The move took place after dark, says one programme source, adding that the improperly installed fasteners will be addressed after ZY998 leaves the paint shop.

To date, of the major aircraft structures, only the wings, horizontal and vertical stabilizers have arrived for Dreamliner Five at Boeing's Everett facility. The forward, center and aft fuselage sections are being held at supplier partners to conduct fastener replacement.

Vought, which is responsible for the fabrication of the aft fuselage, says it will take about a week per airplane to fix the problem. Vought adds that only shipsets five through 11 require new fasteners because shipsets 12 and on have yet to receive internal structure requiring fasteners.

For the center fuselage integrated by Global Aeronautica, the fastener situation is considerably worse, requiring "about ten thousand" fasteners that need to be replaced between Dreamliners Five and Six, according to one veteran engineer in Charleston.

The Seattle Times, citing sources familiar with the situation, reports that on each shipset, 2000 fasteners will need to be replaced on the aft fuselage and 3000 for the forward fuselage produced by Spirit Aerosystems.

Boeing's round-the-clock work schedule is almost entirely devoted to addressing this issue, as well as inspecting each aircraft for additional quality control issues says one 787 machinist.

To accomplish the task, insulation blankets were removed from the length of all 787 interiors to allow for access to the questionable fasteners. For Dreamliner One, many computer workstations, water barrels and some overhead bins have been installed in the cabin in preparation for the flight test campaign as well.

Another source working directly with the flight test aircraft says other improperly installed fasteners have been found that do not meet the initial problematic non-conforming criteria, but adds that the problems are being addressed concurrently with the existing fixes.

Dreamliners One through Four have had their engine pylons removed and returned to Spirit AeroSystems for fastener repairs. As a result, the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines from Dreamliner One have been removed and positioned behind the aircraft.

Boeing announced earlier this month that the 787 would not fly in 2008, initially citing the 57-day strike by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers as the cause, though the need to replace thousands of improperly installed fasteners has pushed major 787 milestones into 2009.