Some very bad news about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner project has been let slip under the radar of the US election day.

It has been improperly riveted or “screwed” in about 3% of the metal fasteners used to link some sections of the four incomplete test flight jets and two static test units at Everett near Seattle.

And they will have to be “unscrewed”, which is not something easily done to a composite jet comprising many criscrossing layers of glued and oven baked reinforced carbon fibre.

Removing the “fasteners” as Boeing calls them involves drilling them out of the structure. They are supposed to stay in place forever. The process can damage and weaken the panels involved.

This means the original Dreamliner 1, that Boeing falsely claimed could fly as early at late September 2007, will now be unscrewed and rescrewed at least twice, the first time being after the sham rollout on 8 July 2007, where it had been deliberately cobbled together with the wrong screws to meet a public relations deadline.

Boeing now has no first flight date, nor first customer delivery date, for the 787, pending what is described as a full assessment of the program.

Qantas was supposed to have received its first 787s, for Jetstar, by the end of this year. In the original hype, they were going to be capable of non-stop services to America.

Then it was promised 15 would be delivered by the end of 2009, and now it is pretty clear Qantas, with 65 on firm order and options or purchase rights for a further 50, mightn’t get any until 2011.

And there are no performance figures for the jet anymore, other than the guarded concession that it won’t fly non-stop to the US. The jet is heavy, late, and looks uncompetitive beside its nearest Airbus equivalent currently in service, the A330-200. Jetstar was supposed to have been able to use its 787s to develop much needed Qantas coverage to European cities, such as Rome, Athens and Amsterdam, that are no longer viable for the full service multi class Qantas product.

But not if the Dreamliner has to stop twice instead of once to carry its intended payload of 330 passengers all the way.

Qantas trusted Boeing and has been left in the lurch, although compensated so far by $291 million in liquidated damages which assisted its record profitability in the year to 30 June.

There are some really serious issues here that Boeing keeps ducking. Why was all the hype about the Dreamliner so far removed from the actual realities of the design? Where did the performance figures come from? Will it have to scrap the prototypes and start again with jets that have been correctly manufactured and assembled? Is it a victim of the same culture of lying that pervades the behaviour of other and failed major American corporations like Enron or in the finance sector?

Is there a parallel in the so far disastrously late and costly Wedgetail project which is supposed to deliver a sci-fi like radar and surveillance capability to the ADF?

As has become its habit, Boeing has chosen to publicly reveal the latest bad news about the biggest selling airliner in history firstly to a plane spotting blogger, John Ostrower, rather than face up to its responsibility to make detailed and timely disclosure all to its shareholders and customers.

Doing so on election day is especially insulting.

Oh and there is a problem with some 737s too…

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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