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Originally published February 5, 2012 at 4:17 PM | Page modified February 6, 2012 at 2:28 PM

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Boeing finds another 787 manufacturing problem

Boeing has discovered a manufacturing error causing delamination in the plastic-composite aft fuselage section of some 787 Dreamliners, according to a person with knowledge of the problem.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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Boeing has discovered a manufacturing error causing delamination in the plastic-composite aft fuselage section of some 787 Dreamliners, according to a person with knowledge of the problem.

Boeing is inspecting all the airplanes already built to find the extent of the issue.

In a brief statement Sunday, Boeing said, "We have the issue well defined and are making progress on the repair plan. There is no short-term safety concern."

Boeing's statement didn't acknowledge the issue involves delamination.

It said unspecified damage resulted from "incorrect shimming performed on support structure on the aft fuselage of some 787s."

Mechanics install shims, or spacers, to fill small gaps that occur between parts that don't fit together exactly.

An earlier problem arose in 2010 with faulty shimming by mechanics working for Alenia building the 787's horizontal tail in Italy. They had applied too much torque when tightening fasteners, and the consequent compression of the shims degraded the composite material.

At that time, those manufacturing quality issues with the horizontal tails added months of delays to the jet program. Many airplanes had to have their tails extensively reworked.

This time, the delamination is happening in a section of the aft fuselage near where the horizontal tail is joined.

Boeing has completed assembly of about 50 Dreamliners to date, and has delivered five, to launch customer All Nippon Airways of Japan. The plane entered service in 2011 after more than three years of delays.

Flightglobal, the website for Flight International magazine, reported Saturday that structural stiffening rods, which had been hardened together with the fuselage skin in massive ovens, had partially separated from the skins.

The Dreamliner's aft fuselage section is manufactured in Charleston, S.C., at the former Vought plant that Boeing took over in 2009.

On Sunday, Boeing played down the problem, saying that "repairs, should they be needed, will be implemented in the most efficient manner possible."

However, if the fuselage repairs are needed in a large number of planes, that could further slow the already slothlike pace of Dreamliner deliveries.

According to the person with knowledge of the issue, any plane in which this fault has been discovered is not allowed to operate beyond "limit load," the term for the maximum load projected in normal service.

However, the planes must be certified to sustain 1.5 times that load, a standard called "ultimate load," for certification and delivery.

The person said discovery of the problem held back some flight tests needed to certify the version of the Dreamliner fitted with General Electric engines.

The initial model with Rolls-Royce engines is already certified.

Boeing did not provide detail beyond its short statement on the issue.

It was left unclear whether the delamination has been found on any of the five Dreamliners already delivered and in passenger service for All Nippon Airways.

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

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