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Wednesday, July 2, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boeing 787 supplier halts work for 24 hours after FAA audit

The South Carolina plant that assembles the mid-fuselage of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner halted production for 24 hours beginning Monday night...

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

The South Carolina plant that assembles the mid-fuselage of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner halted production for 24 hours beginning Monday night after a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audit found lax manufacturing procedures that could result in damage to the aircraft sections.

The production shutdown at the Global Aeronautica plant in Charleston, S.C., was ordered by plant management, which required all workers on three shifts to attend eight-hour training sessions on proper work procedures and policies.

The plant is a 50-50 joint venture between Boeing and its Italian 787 partner, Alenia Aeronautica, that assembles the center fuselage from pieces made in Italy and Japan. Boeing officially took over its half in June from another of the partners, Vought of Texas.

Global Aeronautica spokeswoman Lee Kurtz said the training began at 10 p.m. Monday and was expected to end 24 hours later. "Production halted during that time so that all of the work force can be fully focused on these issues," she said.

The chief focus of the training was proper procedures to avoid foreign object debris, or FOD. That's a standard term in the aircraft industry for material inadvertently left on a partially built airplane that could later damage the structure either by contaminating it or by rattling around loose.

Something as small as a stray bolt could potentially knock out a crucial wire or hydraulic line. To avoid such dangers, airplane mechanics meticulously follow careful preset procedures.

Kurtz said the stoppage was ordered after a routine FAA review from June 18-20 found "observations of FOD and non-conformance with procedures." She said management, not the FAA, decided to suspend production.

Kurtz said the review and training sessions were not related to the plant incident last week, when an Alenia mechanic misdrilled holes in the crown section of Dreamliner No. 4, damaging it.

Global Aeronautica has about 365 direct employees, supplemented by around 140 contractors and more than 300 others from partner companies in the Dreamliner program. The training sessions were mandatory for all.

A contractor inside the plant described what the sessions entailed.

"They had us review all the FOD procedures,' said the contractor, who spoke on condition of not being named. "Everybody had to walk the floor [looking] for FOD and search the airplanes for missing tools."

He said it wasn't surprising the FAA found issues, given the high number of workers there who "never worked on airplanes before."

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However, more experienced contractors are also a potential problem. The contractor said some colleagues, who have come from all over the U.S, have brought their own toolboxes to the job.

"There's a big concern about personal toolboxes" because usually mechanics work with company-issued tools and put them in storage racks at the end of the shift. With personal tools, there's no way to check all have been accounted for.

"In the beginning ... they were basically looking the other way to get the plane built," said the contractor. "Now people are paying attention to procedures and everything is being done by the letter of the law."

"So it was a good thing this happened," he said. "It was like a wake-up call."

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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