Boeing: No decision on when 787 tests to resume


Boeing Co said it has reached no decision on when its 787 Dreamliner would resume test flights after one of the light-weight, carbon-composite planes was damaged in an electrical fire.

The plane is already nearly three years behind schedule.

Boeing has not updated its delivery target to the launch customer, Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co Ltd (9202.T), which is scheduled to receive the wide-body in early 2011.
“Every day you’re not flying is another day that the certification timeline slips,” said Peter Arment, an analyst with Gleacher & Co, Reuters reports.
“And then you have to think about what else has to be done to the aircraft,” he said. “But I think it’s too early to say that you’re talking about a major change in Boeing’s outlook.”

The 30-second fire, in a power panel in an aft electrical equipment bay, occurred last Tuesday on approach to Laredo, Texas, forcing an emergency landing. Boeing subsequently grounded its six-plane airborne test fleet.

The world’s second-largest commercial planemaker after EADS unit Airbus said in a statement that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had approved plans to fly two other test 787s back to Boeing facilities in Seattle from Rapid City, South Dakota, and Victorville, California.

The FAA, which must certify the 787 as safe and had a pilot and systems engineer on the test plane at the time of the fire, must approve repairs and any design changes before flight tests can resume.
“We won’t resume certification testing until we clearly understand the cause and the needed corrective actions, if any,” FAA said in a statement to Reuters.

Boeing said it had inspected the affected plane, tagged ZA002, and has started preparations for installing a new power panel and insulation material, which burned in the fire. Boeing is also repairing minor structural damage, and is reviewing a timeline for completing all the work.

Before a decision can be made on resuming flight tests, Boeing said it must complete the investigation and decide whether any design changes are needed.
“We’re working through the issue and we’ll have to evaluate what impact that might have on the schedule,” said Randy Tinseth, the marketing vice president for Boeing commercial airplanes.
“We have to look at all the test data,” Tinseth told reporters at a meeting at Boeing’s Washington office.

Much of the 787 incorporates novel designs, which invites much closer certification scrutiny from the start. But the system involved in the fire is covered by existing certification standards, the FAA said.

Some experts believe a delay is inevitable.
“The possibility of this (first delivery) moving from the first part of next year to the latter part is certainly feasible,” said Alex Hamilton, managing director of EarlyBirdCapital.

Snorri Gudmundsson, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, was confident Boeing would get to the bottom of the problem.
“We should be relieved that people do this amount of testing. To me, all of this is just normal. I’m convinced the plane will be safe,” said Gudmundsson, who is an expert in aircraft design and has participated in other test flight programs but not for Boeing.

Shares of Boeing, a Dow component, have fallen about 10 percent since the Nov. 9 fire. The stock closed down 1.3 percent at $62.78 on the New York Stock Exchange.