By PETER SANDERS
Boeing Co. has encountered new flaws in the production of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft that have led it to order work to be halted at a plant in Italy that was making parts of the fuselage, the company confirmed Thursday night.
It is unclear how the work stoppage, ordered almost two months ago, will impact the delivery of the 787, which is already two years behind schedule.
The production flaw found in the Italian factory is the latest issue to beset the 787. On the same day that the company ordered work to be stopped at the fuselage plant, Boeing announced in a conference call that it had found a separate structural flaw where the wings meet the body of the plane. That flaw set back the Dreamliner's first test flight. Boeing still hasn't rescheduled the plane's maiden flight or updated its delivery schedule.
Though Boeing officials knew about the problem at the fuselage plant at the same time, they never mentioned it publicly.
The work-stoppage order is detailed in a letter written on June 23 by Boeing to Alenia Aeronautica in Naples. Boeing officials instructed them to stop manufacturing the two mid-fuselage sections it builds for the 787 after flaws in the fuselage's composite skin were discovered.
The existence of the work stoppage and the letter were first reported on the FlightBlogger Web site, which covers the aviation industry.
The problems with the center barrel of the plane's body could "lead to significant degradation of the structure," the letter said, according to the report on the Web site. Alenia is one of hundreds of global subcontractors Boeing is using to build the 787.
Boeing downplayed the significance of the problem. In a statement emailed Thursday night, a Boeing spokeswoman said "a modification needed to accommodate these findings is already designed and being installed" on the affected fuselage parts.
"After a thorough review we found only two locations on each airplane that needed to be strengthened with a fairly simple patch," said Lori Gunter, spokeswoman for the 787 program in Everett, Wash. The two patches can be applied externally and should prevent any "wrinkling" of the composite material, which could lead to further damage if left unrepaired.
Ms. Gunter confirmed that the first 23 production aircraft will need the fix, which can be applied at factories in Washington, South Carolina or Italy, depending on how far along each aircraft is in the production cycle.
The affected areas are located on the fuselage behind the wing and were first introduced on parts for the fifth Dreamliner, when the Italian factory began using a new tooling machine.
Ms. Gunter said the company was still trying to confirm that two of the six aircraft that will be used in Boeing's test flights won't need a modification before they make their first flights, but Boeing didn't rule out the possibility.
She said the Alenia factory in Italy hasn't resumed manufacturing of new fuselage parts. Boeing engineers continue to try to rework the design to reduce the potential for fatigue and "wrinkle" in the Dreamliner's composite skin on that part of the fuselage. Work also continues on the fuselage barrels that had been fabricated before production was halted nearly two months ago.
Asked if the company should have disclosed the Alenia factory closure, Ms. Gunter said via email, "The stoppage of work has no affect on schedule or cost. This is fairly normal for a new development program. These issues come up and we deal with them and move on."
However, Boeing customers have already complained about a lack of transparency as delays have accumulated.
Write to Peter Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org
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