Industry Awaits Word on Seventh 787 Delay

 - December 10, 2010, 5:58 AM
Boeing flew Dreamliner ZA002 from Laredo, Tex., to Seattle on November 30, after replacing a power distribution panel damaged by an in-flight fire. (Photo: copyright Boeing)

Boeing’s conclusion that a short circuit or electrical arc caused by foreign debris in a P100 power distribution panel led to the November 9 fire aboard the second 787 flight test airplane might have come as a relief to those who feared the need for an extensive system re-design. But a month after the fire forced the emergency landing of ZA002 in Laredo, Texas, Boeing still hasn’t issued a new certification target and all six test aircraft remain grounded, leaving many wondering if what the company described as “minor” changes to the power distribution panels and updates to associated system software might still result in protracted delay.

On November 30 Boeing flew ZA002 from Laredo to Seattle after mechanics replaced the damaged P100 power distribution panel, repaired damage to interior composite structure and installed new insulation material. The P100 panel serves as one of five major power distribution panels on the 787. It receives power from the left engine and distributes it to an array of systems.

“We have successfully simulated key aspects of the onboard event in our laboratory and are moving forward with developing design fixes,” said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program. “Boeing is developing a plan to enable a return to 787 flight-test activities and will present it to the FAA as soon as it is complete.” Late last month Boeing said it would issue a new program schedule “in the next few weeks.”

While it awaits word from Boeing, Spirit Aerosystems, the Wichita-based supplier of the 787’s forward fuselage section, engine pylons and wing leading edge, has chosen to divert most of its workers from its 787 lines to other programs, most notably its busy Boeing 737 lines.

Notwithstanding the Spirit move, Boeing insists a three-week hold on 787 assembly it instituted late last month does not mean its suppliers will have to halt production of the 787 parts they make. Meanwhile, more evidence of a potentially significant delay came when Continental Airlines confirmed that it postponed the launch of its 787 service between Houston and Auckland, New Zealand, from November next year to some time in 2012. Continental, which holds orders for 25 Dreamliners, also planned to use a 787 on new service set to start next November between Houston and Lagos, Nigeria, but it now plans instead to use a 777.