Dreamliner faces manufacturing woes

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner sits on the flight line at Paine Field in Everett, Wash.

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KAI RYSSDAL: From finance to flying now. Boeing executives have been losing sleep over their new plane, the Dreamliner, for a while. It's years behind schedule. The Chicago-based company confirmed today that it has found a new problem that has stalled production. This one with the plane's outer shell. High-tech composites are proving to be a good deal more difficult to work with than good old-fashioned aluminum.

Joel Rose reports.


Rose: Boeing has plenty of experience working with composite
materials, basically super-hard, reinforced plastics. They're already used in the F-22 fighter jet and the B-2 bomber. Still, the 787 Dreamliner is a big leap forward.

Jon Ostrower: The requirements for an aircraft like the F-22 or the B-2 are very different from the for a plane that flies from Boston to China.

Jon Ostrower is the editor of FlightBlogger, which first reported the work stoppage at the Italian plant. He says composite is lighter and more durable than aluminum, but it can also be harder to work with.

Ostrower: The way airplanes have always been built before is that you had paneled aluminum around a circular fuselage. Now what you have is single-piece barrels of composite material, with the structure literally cooked into it.

Making it that much harder to fix individual sections of the plane's fuselage. But Boeing officials are trying to downplay the work stoppage. Spokesperson Lori Gunter says the company has already developed a patch, which it's applying to the sections of fuselage
where the flaws were discovered.

Lori Gunter: You find these things in the beginning, you work the solutions and you move forward.

Gunter insists the setback won't affect the timing of flight tests or delivery of the plane, which is already two years behind schedule. When it arrives, Boeing says the Dreamliner will open up long-distance routes that aren't profitable with the current fleet of jets.

I'm Joel Rose, for Marketplace.

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