Boeing Dreamliner wing cracks

Dreamliner wing cracks have emerged, haunting Boeing’s state-of-the art passenger airplane with more problems. Boeing says it is checking for possible “hairline cracks” on the aircraft’s wings. The checks are only on planes currently being produced, existing commercial aircraft that have been sold to customers are not affected.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries told Boeing in the second half of February of the potential Dreamliner wing cracks after it changed its manufacturing process. Inspections that followed the warning detected cracks in some wings.

Fasteners used to connect the carbon fiber composite wing panel to the aluminum shear ties on the wing ribs were over-tightened without using manufacturing fillers, which compressed a gap in the structure and caused hairline cracks less than an inch long in some cases. If the problem is not fixed it may cause undue stress on the aircraft’s structure, leading to further damage.

A Boeing spokesman said:

“We understand the issue, what must be done to correct it, and are completing inspections of potentially affected airplanes. We are addressing affected airplanes as required.”

According to Boeing, almost forty airplanes could be affected. The company has advised customers there could be some delays in deliveries. Boeing emphasized “the issue does not exist in the in-service fleet.”

Dreamliner wing cracks mean delay in deliveries

In a statement, Boeing said that the affected areas are tiny and will require from one to two weeks to check and address problems if any are found. It added that overall 2014 deliveries will not be affected.

Despite Boeing’s assurances, industry analysts wonder what the delay’s effects might be on Boeing’s ability to maintain production in 2014 of 10 aircraft per month. The company plans to deliver 100 Dreamliners in 2014.

The inspections and repairs are being carried out at Mitsubishi facilities in Japan and Boeing’s plants in South Carolina and Washington State.

In after-hours trading, Boeing shares dropped 1% after the news was announced.

Dreamliner wing cracks, one of many problems

Dreamliner wing cracks
Fasteners were over-torqued, leading to wing cracks. (Photo: Boeing)

Although considered a state-of-the art aircraft and came onto the market with much fanfare about its lighter body and lower fuel consumption, the Dreamliner 787 has been fraught with problems.

According to vice-president Mike Fleming, glitches today affect about 2% of all Dreamliner flights around the world.

A 98% reliability rate in 2014 is an improvement over 2013’s 97%, Fleming said “(however) it is still not satisfactory.”

Throughout 2013 and also into 2014, the Dreamliner has had one major problem after another:

  • November 2013 – fifteen airlines were told by Boeing to be careful about ice accumulating when its 727-8 and 787 Dreamliners flew close to thunderstorms at high altitude.
  • October 2013 – two Japan Airline planes had to be turned around in mid-flight. Six of the seven toilets in one airplane became unusable due to electrical problems. In the other flight the anti-ice systems broke down.
  • October 2013 – a Japan Airlines Singapore-Tokyo flight had to be turned around because of technical problems.
  • September 2013 – Norwegian Air Shuttle said it was getting fed up with so many Dreamliner glitches and demanded that Boeing fix the problems “immediately and permanently.”
  • August 2013 – three ANA aircraft reported faulty fire extinguishers. A Japan Airlines plane reported a fire at the aft Electronic Bay that hold a batter that caught fire.
  • July 2013 – an Ethiopian Airlines plane parked at Heathrow airport with its engines turned off suddenly caught fire. Fortunately the plane was empty. A British investigation reported that it had been caused by the lithium-manganese dioxide batteries which powered the emergency locator transmitter. Two ANA locator beacons had faulty and damaged wiring. A pinched wire in a locator beacon was reported by United Airlines.
  • January 2013 – the whole Dreamliner fleet was temporarily grounded after a string of problems. A fire broke out in a Japan Airlines plane, and a Nippon Airways reported several defects.

Several other problems were reported throughout 2013, including issues with wing spoilers, electrical power components and brakes.

Despite all of its technical problems with the Dreamliner, Boeing reported a 26% increase in profits for Q4 2013 of $1.23 billion. Revenue rose to $23.79 billion, an increase of 7%.

The company added, however, that expected 2014 profits will be lower than the previous forecast. It expects to deliver 715 to 725 airplanes this year, a 10% increased on last year.

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