Albaugh hopeful on engine fixes for delayed 787
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said he's optimistic problems with the Rolls-Royce engines for the 787 Dreamliner will be corrected without further delay to the first delivery, and acknowledged the 747-8 freighter won't be delivered this year.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said Monday that British jet engine-maker Rolls-Royce will present "a series of fixes" to his engineering team in Everett on Tuesday to address the problem that caused the innards of a 787 Dreamliner engine to break up on a ground test stand last month.
"Our guys will take a hard look at it," said Albaugh. "I'm optimistic ... we can continue to support an entry into service in the middle of the first quarter."
In a phone interview, Albaugh also outlined progress in addressing problems on the new version of the jumbo jet, the 747-8, which is facing a still-unspecified delay.
Albaugh said the 747-8, like the Dreamliner, will certainly not be delivered until early next year as engineers struggle to fix a vibration in the wing tip. He said a new 747-8 schedule will be available soon.
Albaugh also gave detailed reasons why Boeing is leaning away from putting a new engine on the 737 and will likely instead aim to develop a replacement for it around the end of this decade.
Albaugh did not provide any technical details about the problem with the Rolls-Royce Trent engine, which will power most of the early Dreamliners. He said only that Rolls has put together "a recovery plan," and indicated that this should avert any serious delay in certifying the engine to fly.
"They'll be reviewing it with our people here in Everett [Tuesday] and the next day," he said. "They have a series of fixes they plan on putting in place which should make this engine fine for certification and fine for use."
When the engine blew up during the ground test in early August, some of the innards were reported to have penetrated the casing around the engine — a dangerous "uncontained failure" that, if it happened in flight, could bring down an airplane.
Rolls-Royce has never publicly clarified whether the engine suffered an uncontained failure. If it did, the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory agencies would expect extensive testing to find out why and verify any fix.
Albaugh suggested that the failure was caused by procedural issues, resulting from a "known concern" that was mishandled in some unspecified manner.
"They had a couple of things that were not consistent with how they should have been testing that engine, which led to the problem," Albaugh said cryptically.
An engine surge that happened earlier this month during a flight test in New Mexico was in comparison "a nonissue," Albaugh said. Later Rolls engines had already been changed to address that problem even before the surge, he said.
Despite the engine issues, Albaugh said Boeing is sticking to the latest timetable for the first Dreamliner delivery: mid-February.
"The airplane continues to fly very, very well," Albaugh said.
He divulged one piece of good news for the 787: Over the weekend, it successfully completed a set of crucial — and brutal — tests at Edwards Air Force Base north of Los Angeles.
The trials are known as the "Maximum Energy Refused Take-Off" tests. The pilot sped down the runway with Dreamliner No. 1 loaded to its maximum weight, then deliberately jammed on the full brakes at the last moment before the wheels would have lifted from the ground.
The massive momentum shift in such a test creates a dangerous situation. The brakes heat up so much that in previous airplane programs the wheels typically have caught fire.
Not this time. The Dreamliner has new carbon-fiber-reinforced ceramic brakes that don't melt and set the tires aflame.
"Based on everything we know and everything we observed," the tests "went as expected," said Albaugh.
Albaugh was also cautiously optimistic on the 747-8.
He said his engineers have been struggling to remove a slight vibration of the wing tip in flight — "like a one-inch deflection in the tip of the wing."
But he said flight tests this past weekend had shown "promising" results, and "I think we're getting to the end of it."
He said the problem is not a question of structural integrity, nor a fatigue issue that would weaken a wing over time, but it does need to be addressed before certification.
Boeing said months ago the first delivery of the 747-8 might slide into 2011 but hadn't confirmed any specific delay.
As for the big strategic decision facing him this year on the 737, Albaugh said, "The vast majority of our customers are not supportive of a re-engine. They would rather wait for a new airplane."
Airbus is expected to put a new engine on its A320 single-aisle jet. Though Albaugh has yet to decide whether that will work for the 737, it looks like the answer will be no.
He said a new airplane would improve operating costs 15 to 20 percent. A re-engined 737 would provide a much smaller improvement and would cost airlines more to buy and more to maintain.
A final decision on that was earlier expected by year-end, though Albaugh said he won't be driven by the calendar and might not decide until next year.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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