Boeing's Latest Dreamliner Setback

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Boeing said on Tuesday that first flight of the 787 Dreamliner will be postponed again, due to a need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft, and it will be several weeks before a new first flight or delivery date will be announced. Boeing officials had said as recently as last week at the Paris Air Show that the Dreamliner's first flight would take place by the end of this month, and deliveries would start by next March. The need to modify the aircraft raised questions about whether the computer models that are used to design aircraft and predict performance are adequate, especially when using advanced composite materials, but officials at Boeing said the process is working as it should: Computer models predict how the design will behave, but extensive real-world testing is always required to validate those predictions and, if necessary, modify the models.

The aircraft will require structural reinforcements at about 36 points near the area where the wing joins the fuselage, Boeing officials said, but the changes will not significantly impact weight or performance. The airplane is already about two years behind schedule. "It's going to take some years of high-volume production of solidly performing aircraft to get past this loss of face," Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with the Teal Group, told the Wall Street Journal. Boeing said in a statement that the 787 team will continue with other aspects of testing on Airplane No. 1, including final gauntlet testing and low-speed taxiing. Work will also continue on the other five flight test aircraft and the subsequent aircraft already in the production system. "Structural modifications like these are not uncommon in the development of new airplanes," said Scott Carson, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "This is not an issue related to our choice of materials or the assembly and installation work of our team." You can listen to Tuesday's hour-long webcast conference call with Boeing executives at the Boeing Web site.