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Structural Defects Found in Some Boeing 787s

Aug. 30, 2020
Eight of the wide-body aircraft have been grounded for inspection and repair of flaws found in the joints connecting composite materials forming part of the fuselage for the long-distance jets.

Boeing Co. has grounded eight 787 Dreamliner aircraft for inspection and repair of two structural flaws related to the jets' manufacturing and assembly process. Over 1,500 orders have been placed for the twin-engine, wide-body aircraft that went into service in 2011, of which 977 have been delivered. The number currently in service is uncertain, due to airlines' reduced schedules following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to reports, the eight aircraft identified for inspection and repair include individual jets operated by Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, and United Airlines. Other carriers that may be affected have not been identified.

The defect involves the joint for two composite-material sections at the rear of the 787 fuselage, which were welded together at Boeing's North Charleston, S.C., complex. According to reports, the problem concerns "shims" that are custom-formed by the robotic welding system to fill any gaps where two, barrel-shaped sections are joined — to avoid any structural weaknesses. Some of these gaps were improperly filled, according to report.

Separately, the affected 787s were found with interior surface roughness on the composite sections, which may affect the reliability of the joint and undermine the overall structural reliability. Together, according to a Bloomberg News report, these defects cause the fuselage sections to fail Boeing's standard for stress endurance, which would increase the possibility of in-flight failure.

Additionally, Bloomberg cited a source that claimed Boeing has concluded that the rest of the Dreamliner fleet meets its standards, though it is analyzing data to determine what further inspections and repair actions may be needed.

Boeing reportedly has briefed the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and is “conducting a thorough review into the root cause” of the assembly error.

Boeing assembles the 787 Dreamliner at North Charleston as well as at its Everett, Wash., complex, though in a July statement on its cost-cutting and reorganizational strategies the OEM noted it will evaluate a plan to consolidate all 787 production in South Carolina.

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