Production problems and delivery delays are continuing to trouble Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner program. Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began a review of the Dreamliner’s assembly line following a series of quality control issues. More recently, the inspection regime has stepped up yet again following the revelation of further quality control problems at Boeing’s 787 factories.
Defects about the width of a human hair
The story was first reported by Andrew Tangel and Andy Pasztor in The Wall Street Journal earlier today. That report says Boeing has increased inspections following the discovery of previously identified defects. But the defects have now cropped up in new parts of the fuselage.
The report says the defects are imperfections around joins on the carbon-composite fuselage, meaning it isn’t as smooth as it should be. In the words of a Boeing spokesperson, parts of the fuselage “may not meet specified skin flatness tolerances.” The defects are tiny, about the width of a human hair.
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The FAA is aware of the problem and is talking to Boeing. Both Boeing and the FAA stress the spots don’t raise immediate safety concerns. An FAA spokesperson told Simple Flying;
“The FAA continuously engages with Boeing through established continued operational safety and manufacturing oversight processes to appropriately address any issues that might arise.”
Stepped-up inspections leading to delivery delays
Boeing flagged the fuselage skin smoothness issues earlier this year. Originally, the problem concerned the tail section of the Dreamliners. In addition, problems arose with incorrectly sized shims.
A shim is a part used to fill tiny gaps in fuselage joins. In a worst-case scenario, this could lead to cracks in the fuselage.
As a result, a number of 787 Dreamliners were grounded and the FAA began a wide-ranging review into quality control issues on the 787 assembly lines.
Boeing delivered its first 787 in September 2011. That plane entered service a month later. Japan’s All Nippon Airways was the launch customer.
Since then, despite a series of problems, the nimble, fuel-efficient aircraft has proved a hit with airline customers. According to Boeing data, as of November 30, 992 of the planes have gone to airlines around the world. However, no Dreamliners were delivered in November. Boeing has previously said the stepped-up inspections of the planes was a contributing factor to delivery delays.
Boeing says thoroughness of inspections causing delays
Typically, Boeing produces about ten Dreamliners a month. However, the plane maker plans to reduce that monthly average in the face of a travel downturn and slowing demand for new aircraft. According to The Wall Street Journal, Boeing has built 53 Dreamliners that airline customers are yet to pick up. The aircraft manufacturer expects it to take some time to deliver these planes.
Speaking to Simple Flying, a Boeing spokesperson said the key problem was a delivery issue. The stepped-up inspections were taking time, but Boeing also said it was important to be thorough. The spokesperson said the issues with skin smoothness were previously disclosed by their Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith and that they will continue to work and communicate with the FAA.