Sun, Jun 11, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Engineers discover problems while testing Boeing 787

GLITCH Industry analysts were watching closely to see if the firm's 787 line will be delayed after the firm found bubbles in materials in a fuselage


Boeing Co's 787 program suffered a potential setback when engineers discovered problems while testing a section of the new airplane, but the glitch is not expected to delay the 787's highly anticipated debut.

The 9.9m prototype of a section of the 787's fuselage was supposed to be used as part of efforts to gain Federal Aviation Administration certification for the airplane's manufacturing process.

But Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said the company's engineers called off FAA certification plans after discovering bubbles in the high-tech composite materials used for the section, and decided the part would likely fail the government test.

Leach said the bubbles, created when gases get inside the composite material, were likely caused by a leak in the tool used to build the fuselage. The bubbles could degrade the composites, eventually causing the material to tear or crack.

The glitch, which was first reported by Business Week, is not expected to delay Boeing's plans to deliver the first 787 to Japan's All Nippon Airways by mid-2008, Leach said.

To make up the lost time, the airplane maker has decided to make two more fuselage sections at the same time, and to test them concurrently to make sure they meet quality standards.

Leach said the new plan will cost Chicago-based Boeing more money, but the expense is likely worth it.

The 787 is an enormous bet for the Chicago-based aerospace company, and investors and airlines alike are watching closely for any signs the company won't be able to deliver the plane successfully and on time.

The 787 promises to be more fuel-efficient than similar airplanes flying today, in part because the company is relying heavily on composite materials, which are sturdy plastics that are lighter and more durable than aluminum.

However, the major switch to using more composites has required an enormous amount of new research and development.

Boeing plans a family of 787 jets, with the smallest capable of carrying 250 passengers and the largest 330 passengers.

Rival Airbus SAS is offering a competing airplane, the A350, which is currently being designed to carry between 253 and 300 passengers, depending on the model.

However, Airbus has said that it may consider modifying the A350 after criticism from airlines and jet leasing companies.

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