- Eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners were grounded in late August after Boeing discovered two issues stemming from their manufacture in its South Carolina facility.
- Each issue on its own isn’t enough to warrant a safety concern, according to Boeing, but eight planes currently flying for global airlines were found to have an unsafe combination of both.
- The Federal Aviation Administration is now investigating production defects with the aircraft line, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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After Boeing notified airlines in late August of manufacturing issues with some of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft stemming from quality-control issues during production, eight planes were grounded as a result. Now, the Federal Aviation Administration is stepping in to investigate potential defects in the aircraft program’s production, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Tangel and Andy Pasztor reported on Monday.
Two issues stemming from the aircraft’s manufacture at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina facility prompted an internal review with the manufacturer voluntarily notifying regulators and affected airlines, a spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider.
“Boeing has identified two distinct manufacturing issues in the join of certain 787 aftbody fuselage sections, which, in combination, result in a condition that does not meet our design standards,” a Boeing spokesperson told Business Insider in an emailed statement.
One problem is that the shims, or materials used for filling empty spaces, installed on some aircraft weren’t of a correct size while a separate issue involved “skin flatness specifications” not being met in certain parts of assembled aircraft.
Boeing claims that while the errors are indicative of issues with its production line for the aircraft, either issue on its own wouldn’t have warranted the grounding of an aircraft. The combination of both issues, however, compromises the aircraft’s safety and fails to meet Boeing’s standards, according to the spokesperson.
The FAA did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Eight aircraft already in service with global passenger airlines were determined to be unfit for service and grounded in late-August for repairs. They come from Air Canada, United Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Singapore Airlines, Air Europa, Norwegian Air Shuttle, and Etihad Airways, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources familiar with the issue.
Only Dreamliner aircraft with both manufacturing flaws were grounded while aircraft that only had one were permitted to continue flying as they “meet limit load capacity,” according to Boeing.
The FAA will likely determine whether or not an airworthiness directive – a legally binding document that outlines a fix to which manufacturers and airlines must adhere – is required, which could affect all Dreamliners currently flying and lead to changes in how the aircraft is assembled.
If one is issued, airlines could see downtime for their Dreamliner aircraft a time when they’re needed the most by some airlines who depend on their fuel-efficiency to help lower flight costs during the industry downturn.
Boeing produces its Dreamliners – the first of its next-generation product line that has spurred the development of jets like the yet-to-be delivered 777X – at two facilities, one in Everett, Washington, and the other in North Charleston, South Carolina. The widebody aircraft is a best-seller and Boeing was producing them at a rate of 14 per month before the coronavirus pandemic, with that number is now down to 10 per month and set to be reduced to six per month in 2021, according to the Seattle Times.
The Dreamliner can be found flying on every populated continent following its 2011 delivery to launch customer All Nippon Airways but has long suffered from issues. The global 787 fleet was grounded in 2013 following a battery issue that caused an in-flight fire and issues with the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine have crippled the Dreamliner fleets in countless more airlines.
The FAA’s review could include nearly 1,000 aircraft, according to the Wall Street Journal, depending on the scope of the regulator’s investigation, and comes as the troubled 737 Max prepares to re-enter service after being grounded since March 2019 following two deadly crashes.