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Boeing’s Dreamliner now a year in airline hands

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Sep. 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
September 25, 2012 1:54 pm

Boeing today is celebrating the first anniversary of its long-delayed delivery of its first 787 Dreamliner to launch customer All Nippon Airways.

In that year, the company has delivered a total of 25 Dreamliners to six airlines including ANA. The first delivery a year ago was more than three years behind schedule because of numerous production issues.
ANA's first Dreamliner
All Nippon Airways’ first Dreamliner landing in Tokyo

In a little less than a year in airline service, the plane has performed reasonably well with the exception of issues with engines supplied by both engine builders, GE and Rolls Royce. Those problems have caused no accidents, but they’ve created delays while parts were replaced and causes found.

Rolls Royce replaced multiple gearboxes on its Dreamliner engines after cracks were discovered in the gears on some aircraft.

And General electric engines powering the Dreamliner and the Boeing 747-8 are being inspected after two recent incidents. In the first, a Dreamliner performing ground tests in North Charleston, S.C. ignited a fire in dry grass near a runway when a shaft inside one engine broke sending hot metal parts into the grassy area.

A second incident occurred this month when a 747-8 Freighter taking off from a Chinese air port had an engine fail as it approached 50 mph. The pilot halted the takeoff. The GE engine on the 747-8 is similar to those used on the Dreamliner.

The FAA is requiring periodic inspections of those model GE engines to determine if any cracks are developing.

Earlier this year, Boeing discovered part of the composite support structure in the Dreamliner’s tail was delaminating. The Dreamliner’s fuselage is created of multiple layers of composite cloth baked together under pressure to form a single-piece composite part.

Those layers were coming apart in a part in the plane’s tail. Boeing blamed the problem on faulty shimming of the part in a Charleston factory. The delaminations have been repaired.

The issue posed no immediate safety problem. The parts were repaired both in planes in service and those awaiting delivery.

Boeing biggest challenge now is to increase the production pace. Dreamliners are now being built at a rate of 3.5 a month. Boeing wants that number raised to 10 monthly by the end of next year.

In addition to Boeing’s original 787 assembly line in Everett, the company has built a new factory to assemble the Dreamliner in Charleston. That plant has built Dreamliners, but none have yet been delivered.

The aerospace company also recently announced that it plans to activate a second assembly line at its Everett plant. That “surge line” is designed to help the company meet its production promises to airlines. Ultimately, that line may produce the second variant of the Dreamliner, the 787-9.

Next Monday, All Nippon Airways will inaugurate its first Dreamliner service to the U.S. with 787 flights between Sea-Tac Airport and Tokyo. Japan Airlines is the only other airline using the Dreamliner for U.S. flights. A JAL Dreamliner flight connects Boston and Tokyo.

United Airlines this month became the first U.S. airline to take delivery of a Dreamliner. It plans to introducing the 787 into domestic service in November and begin overseas flights early next year.

Other airlines that have taken delivery of Dreamliners, include Air India, LAN and Ethiopian. All plan to put those planes into commercial service soon.

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