Boeing will know soon the impact of time consuming repairs on the Dreamliner Four schedule after the centre fuselage barrel was damaged during a production incident at Global Aeronautica in Charleston, South Carolina.
"An Alenia Aeronautica employee had an issue not following proper procedures. We've had a production issue that has resulted," says Boeing. "The repair has been completed and the issue has been resolved."
Alenia North America adds that it was "able to continue to perform some scheduled work in parallel. As a result of the necessary repair time, the delivery of the fuselage section to Everett has been delayed by Boeing. Global Aeronautica is awaiting a revised delivery date from Boeing."
According to sources, incorrect fasteners were improperly installed in the wrong holes, causing damage to the composite structure during the join process in Charleston. When installed, each fastener "splintered out the hole" causing significant enough damage to postpone delivery of the centre fuselage. The contractor, an experienced aviation mechanic, left the company immediately.
Alenia confirms that "there has been some damage" to 11 fastener holes in a 30cm (12in) area in the centre fuselage caused by "an experienced temporary worker [who] has been fired". The company adds that "there has been a delay to completion and it will only take a few days to sort out the issue. We have had to disassemble some parts of the fuselage [to make the repair]."
The incident again brings the troubled Global Aeronautica facility into the spotlight at a time when Boeing had begun to achieve key milestones illustrating the progress in the programme.
Earlier last week, production at the facility was halted for 24h due to a US Federal Aviation Administration audit that found lax manufacturing procedures that could result in damage to the aircraft sections. The shutdown was not related to the damage sustained on the centre fuselage.
Boeing has been developing comprehensive composite repair procedures since the early days of the Sonic Cruiser programme, the 787's predecessor. Yet the collateral impact to the schedule of such repairs in the midst of production work appears to be a crucial aspect of Boeing and Global Aeronautica's production learning curve.
Speaking broadly, the 787's top mechanic says damage is a fact of life in a new aircraft programme: "It's a huge issue when you damage an airplane during production," says 787 chief mechanic Justin Hale. "It's always been the case that they do get damaged in production because you are still understanding the threats that are in the production system."
The follow-on impact of even easy repairs on production is always a consideration. Hale suggested that an 8h repair, for example, could cascade by one or two times because a repair prevents the production system from operating in the area of the damage.
Hale adds that when damage is sustained, the company works to investigate and understand its cause and learn from the mistake to "prevent it on the next go-around".