The issue is not the fasteners themselves, but the way they were installed on titanium parts inside the airplane. Some were left sticking up slightly from the titanium surface, leaving a small but technically significant gap between the head of the fastener and the surface.

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In the middle of the Machinists strike, Boeing inspectors in Everett discovered a new and serious problem with the manufacture of the first 787 Dreamliners.

Boeing admitted Tuesday that about 3 percent of the fasteners installed on the five test airplanes under construction in Everett were installed incorrectly and will have to be removed and reinstalled. Some of Boeing’s global partners have found the same problem in airplane sections under construction.

“We are finding that the specification for installation of the fasteners wasn’t as clear as it could have been and so it was misinterpreted by folks doing the installation,” said Boeing spokeswoman Mary Hanson.

Hanson said the issue was first detected about two weeks ago during an inspection of the “static test” airframe in Everett, an early production airplane that undergoes prolonged stress tests in a large fixture inside the factory. Subsequent inspections found the same problem on the four 787s under final assembly, three of which were due to be flight test airplanes.

The issue is not the fasteners themselves, but the way they were installed on titanium parts inside the airplane. Some were left sticking up slightly from the titanium surface, leaving a small but technically significant gap between the head of the fastener and the surface.

Referring to the incorrectly installed fasteners as “nonconforming” with specifications, Hanson said they were found in various areas of the airplanes, on sections made by various suppliers.

“The locations of the non-conformances aren’t isolated to any particular area of the airplane,” said Hanson.

She declined to identify which sections or which suppliers are involved. She said a “root cause analysis” is under way to find out why this happened and why it wasn’t discovered until so late in the build process.

The first Dreamliner was within a couple of months of its scheduled first flight when the International Association of Machinists (IAM) strike began in September.

“We’re going to strengthen our quality management system,” said Hanson. “We have already prepared additional training on the installation process that is now being deployed through the factory to our workforce. And we’ve also sent it to our partners and they are deploying it to all of their workforce as well.”

Last year, Boeing cited a shortage of fasteners and the need to insert temporary fasteners as contributing to the earliest delays on the crucial jet program.

Since then, delays have mounted and the first delivery of the airplane was already about 15 months behind schedule before the two-month Machinist strike that just ended. Hanson said Boeing has not determined yet if the discovery of this latest fastener problem, which was first reported online by the trade publication Air Transport World, will add yet more delay or can be fixed during the production recovery that follows the strike.

Hanson said that Boeing hasn’t finalized a revised schedule for the 787.

But Boeing did officially admit Tuesday what has been obvious for some time: that the 787 will not fly this year.

After the previous round of delays, the first test flight had been pushed out to the “third quarter of 2008.” But because of the just-ended 58-day IAM strike, that isn’t going to happen.

The pushing out of first flight into 2009 is not attributable to the new fastener issue, said Yvonne Leach, another Boeing spokeswoman.

“It’s directly related to the duration of the IAM work stoppage,” said Leach.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com