Boeing Widens 787 Dreamliner Inspections After Finding More Assembly-Line Defects

Boeing Co.

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has expanded inspections of newly produced 787 Dreamliners after a previously disclosed manufacturing defect was discovered in portions of the jet where it was not originally discovered, according to industry and government officials.

Boeing engineers and US aviation safety officials agree that the newly discovered problem does not pose an immediate safety risk, officials said. But the new edition is likely to kick off a review by the Federal Aviation Administration of the 787 production fuses triggered by other deficiencies earlier this year, one of those officials said.

The more extensive quality controls, which cover the entire fuselage of the aircraft rather than just specific sections around the tail, are why inspections are taking longer than previously thought, officials said. It also explains why Dreamliners didn’t ship in November.

The Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer announced the inspection and delivery delays on December 4th without giving the reasons.

The flaws in question are places where the surface of the 787’s carbon-composite fuselage isn’t as smooth as it should be, a Boeing spokesman said. Such areas can create tiny gaps in which hull sections connect together and lead to premature structural fatigue that can require extensive repairs. The spokesman said the inspections had identified areas where assembly of parts of the 787 fuselage “may not meet the specified tolerances for skin flatness”.

The defects mark the fourth outage on the assembly line affecting Boeing’s popular family of wide-body jets that came to light in just as many months. Apart from May, according to an analysis of the delivery data, November was the only month since 2013 in which the production facilities were shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic and the aircraft manufacturer was forced to temporarily shut down the production facilities.

The company found the latest problem through strengthened quality assurance practices last year when other shortcomings were discovered, the Boeing spokesman said. And he said the company asked suppliers to do similar checks. “These results are part of Boeing’s review of assembled 787 aircraft to ensure that each aircraft meets our highest quality standards prior to delivery to customers,” he said.

The FAA, which has been considering measures to mitigate the issues by possibly issuing safety guidelines, released a statement on Sunday stating that the agency is working regularly with Boeing on “continuing operations safety and manufacturing oversight processes.” to adequately address any problems that may arise “.

Boeing’s production cuts have shocked the aviation industry, forcing suppliers to lay off thousands of employees. Tool Gauge reconfigured its operations immediately after opening a new facility in Tacoma, Washington, to manufacture Boeing parts. Photo: Joel Winter for the Wall Street Journal (originally published October 19, 2020)

Under pressure from the FAA, Boeing has also stepped up internal manufacturing controls and focused on other errors, ranging from issues with inspection papers to debris mistakenly left behind by assembly line workers in 737 MAX jetliners and military tankers.

The wide-body passenger jets that Boeing first delivered in 2011 have an excellent safety record and are often used on long international routes. If found on planes that are already carrying passengers, the latest defect can be fixed with extensive maintenance checks that are required as the jets get older, some of the officials familiar with the matter said.

Delivery delays threaten to add to Boeing’s financial burden as it grapples with the aftermath of the pandemic that has weighed on global demand for air travel and passenger jets. Greg Smith, Boeing’s chief financial officer, said Boeing is expected to continue working to clear its growing inventory of undelivered Dreamliners over the next year.

Earlier this year, Boeing announced the defect in the smoothness of the skin in the rear of the aircraft, as well as improperly sized washers – or parts used to fill in small gaps where the fuselage sections are joined together. It wasn’t immediately clear how many planes with flawed skin were found in additional spots, but officials familiar with the matter said the cases appeared relatively isolated.

Boeing has moved Dreamliner production to its South Carolina facility.


Randall Hill / Reuters

Boeing engineers previously determined that if the defects affecting the smoothness of the skin and the size of the washer appear in the same place, the result can be tiny imperfections that pose a potential hazard, such as: B. rupture of the fuselage under extreme flight conditions. Boeing took the unusual move in August of voluntarily landing eight aircraft in airline fleets for immediate repairs.

These earlier issues prompted the FAA to begin reviewing quality control defects in Boeing’s 787 production, which dates back nearly a decade.

Boeing also previously identified a third quality control flaw related to the horizontal stabilizer, a moving, wing-like plate in the tail.

Earlier this month, Mr Smith announced Boeing’s intention to further reduce 787 production over the next year due to weak demand and the growing backlog of parked aircraft.

According to aviation research firm Ascend by Cirium, Boeing, which produced around 10 Dreamliners per month at the beginning of December, had built but undelivered 787s that had been in their inventory for an average of five months.

Mr Smith said the 787 monthly production rate would stay below Boeing’s target of 10 before slowing to five at its North Charleston, SC facility in May. Assembly of the 787 is slated to end at a Boeing plant in Seattle.

The 787’s manufacturing problems were not related to design flaws in a flight control system that kept the global fleet of 737 MAX jets on the ground for nearly two years. The aircraft models are built in separate facilities.

contributed to this article.

Write to Andrew Tangel at [email protected] and Andy Pasztor at [email protected]

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