Mubadala set to exploit Alenia’s composite skills

 - November 12, 2009, 11:15 PM

Alenia Aeronautica plans to begin training, early next year, employees of Strata, the new composites aerostructures company formed by Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Co. The Italian group, which has extensive experience with composites manufacturing, has been partnered with Mubadala (Stand C510) in the venture since October, when the sovereign wealth fund signed an agreement with its parent Finmeccanica (Stand C420).

Mubadala is looking to boost Abu Dhabi’s aerospace capabilities and has identified manufacturing composite structural components as a niche sector in which it
can compete. Alenia Aeronautica was contracted to provide technical support and training, and it is also due to transfer some of its own composite aerostructures work to the new Strata factory, where full manufacturing capability is expected to begin in 2011. The work will include manufacturing flap track fairings, ailerons, spoilers and vertical and horizontal stabilizers for the Avions de Transport Regional family of twin turboprops in which Alenia is a 50- percent partner with EADS.

Construction of the 232,500-sq-ft facility started on June 29, a few days after the establishment of Strata, which is 100 percent controlled by Mubadala. Strata employees are to travel to Italy to receive on-the-job training.

Initial production work at Strata’s new facilities are expected start in the last quarter of 2010. In addition to the ATR contract, the new company has secured composite manufacturing work–totaling more than $2 billion–from Airbus and Austrian aerostructures group FACC, with this business totaling more than $2 billion. Initially, Strata is to have a workforce of 500, which should eventually rise to more than 1,000 as the production complex is to be expanded to more than 645,800 sq ft in the future.

According to Alenia Aeronautica CEO Giovanni Bertolone, the alliance with Mubadala as well as Alenia’s success in winning the lead-in fighter trainer contest in the United Arab Emirates with its M346 jet have laid a firm foundation for doing more business here in the Arabian Gulf state.

787 Issues Resolved
Meanwhile, Alenia says it has resolved the technical problems that led to Boeing suspending earlier this year its role in manufacturing fuselage sections for the new 787 widebody airliner. The company said, “We intend to complete the delivery of fuselages up to [aircraft serial numbers] 22 and 23 by early 2010, while during that year we plan to deliver 30 more sets of fuselage sections, which will be produced following the new procedure agreed with Boeing.”

Alenia makes fuselage sections 44 and 46, which have lengths of almost 28 feet and between 32 and 50 feet, respectively. The sections for aircraft Serial Number 22 will be the last ones for which Alenia will need to add composite patches following the discovery last June of microscopic wrinkles in the skin layers. The wrinkles were induced by pressure coming from stringers which, according to Boeing, were being produced outside its specifications.

The solution identified to fix the problem on the fuselages already built and those under construction was to add material in two areas. According to Alenia, this was relatively simple work as those areas were accessible from the outside the airplane. Patches were installed at Boeing’s plant in Everett, Washington, on already-delivered fuselage sections, and at Grottaglie in Italy for those under construction.

To integrate the modifications that will be adopted starting with Serial Number 23, the production rate did slow down somewhat in recent months but, according to Alenia Aeronautica, this will not impact the total planned deliveries for the year. Currently, production of the two fuselage sections at Grottaglie takes about six months, but Alenia is looking forward to reducing the manufacturing time to four months by optimizing the final phase of the process which has required quite a lot of manual work.