July 15, 2008

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Experiences Another Delay

Test Flights for the Boeing's 787 Dreamliner are being delayed again due to problems with the verifying software in the brake control system.

So far, three major production delays due to parts shortages and incomplete work from suppliers arriving at its assembly plant near Seattle have kept the 787's from their first test flights, originally planned for last summer.

Pat Shanahan, general manager of the 787 program, said they are still on track for a first flight in the fourth quarter, but the newest "air bubble" in the timetable is in the brake systems.

"We need to push harder on the brake system," he said.

The sleek, fuel-efficient airliner would have been one the stars of the world's largest air show after being delivered to its first Japanese customer in May, but delays kept hanging up its delivery date.

Officials insist it is still on track for first delivery in the third quarter of 2009, Boeing's latest target.

Airlines have ordered 896 planes worth nearly $150 billion at list prices due to the carbon-composite aircraft design, promising 20 percent fuel savings.

But parts shortages and problems with incomplete work by suppliers have resulted in delivery delays resembling the two-year lag encountered by Airbus on its A380 Superjumbo, which entered service last October.

Shanahan, who has led the 787 program since October last year, said the latest hitch has been delays in getting the software in the 787's brake control system verified to meet stringent certification requirements.

The brake control and monitoring system work has been done by Hydro-Aire, part of U.S. engineering company Crane Co, which was in turn subcontracted by General Electric Co's Smiths aerospace unit.

"It's not that the brakes don't work, it's the traceability of the software," Shanahan said

He said that Crane had to go back and rewrite certain parts of the brake control software to verify it for the certification process.

Shanahan said he was confident that General Electric would get the job done.

Crane's official spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.

The French company providing wheels and other parts of the braking system are provided by Messier-Bugatti, a unit of French conglomerate Safran.  A sister company, Sagem Defense and Security, provides an electrical braking system known as the EBAC.

The company said it had nothing to do with any of the problems Boeing was having:  "Our material has passed 'Safety of Flight' tests and has been delivered in its entirety for the first flight. It also passed the recent 'Power On' tests on the 787," said Messier-Bugatti President Jean-Christophe Corde.

Shanahan, who replaced Mike Bair, the original 787 chief, after the first major delay on the plane last year, said Airplane One was in good shape.

"Along with the brake system problem, more work needs to be done on the mid-body of the first plane and there are still parts shortages on the wing."

He said Boeing's next steps are putting hydraulics on the first plane and running the engines, as it moves toward first flight in the fourth quarter.

Airplane 4, however, which will also be used for flight tests, could pose the next problem. The main fuselage of that plane is still at the Global Aeronautica plant in South Carolina, two to three weeks after it was due to be shipped to Seattle for final assembly.

Shanahan said that delay did not directly threaten the flight test timetable, but was eating away at extra time built in to the schedule.

Global Aeronautica, a joint venture between Boeing and Alenia, a unit of Italian aerospace company Finmeccanica, is putting the main parts of the plane's body's fuselage together at a specially built facility in Charleston, South Carolina.


On the Net:

Boeing 787 Dreamliner