Boeing’s 787 woes continue as new quality issues with structural composite parts have been found earlier this year. As the Wall Street Journal and The Seattle Times revealed on November 19, the FAA is requesting more evidence that the problems have been solved before the agency will grant permission to restart the production and deliveries. Boeing 787 quality issues get a new twist.
The latest issues were identified early this year, an FAA memo says that has been seen by The Seattle Times. Boeing found that the composite wings produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Aerostructures business had been contaminated with so-called PTFE or polytetrafluorethylene. This could affect the bonding process in an autoclave of composite sub-assemblies and parts inside the wing to the surface.
The memo reportedly explains that while the bonding quality was affected by the contamination, Boeing said it was still within design limits. But further investigation by the airframer has learned in October that not only MHI has suffered from PTFE contamination, but also the suppliers of fuselage sections (which are Leonardo, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Spirit AeroSystems), and those of the tail section (which includes parts from Leonardo, Boeing). The bonding has been found to be below design limits on these segments.
The FAA memo also identifies the problem of gaps around the doors in the Leonardo-produced aft fuselage sections that are too big. Again, the regulator is not convinced by the standards of the execution of the work and wants Boeing to come up with a solution that guarantees that the structure around the doors meets the design requirements.
As has been the case with the other quality issues that involve the Dreamliner since 2019 (shimming and skin flatness issues, a nose issue, and titanium deficiencies), the FAA demands that Boeing comes up with a convincing solution to the problems. Until the agency is satisfied, it will not release the 787 for production and deliveries. Spirit AeroSystems said in its Q3-results presentation that it had stopped producing Dreamliner parts (notably the nose section 41), but Boeing itself has now also stopped production until further notice. The problem with inadequate titanium parts from Leonardo’s sub-supplier MPS could affect over 1.000 Dreamliners, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Boeing unable to give a schedule on the 787
Last Saturday during a pre-Dubai Airshow media briefing, AirInsight asked Boeing’s Ihssane Mounir (Senior Vice President of Commercial Sales and Marketing) when he thinks the airframer is on top of the quality issues and is sure that no new ones emerge. Back then, we didn’t know about the latest ones. Mounir replied: “We continue to do meticulous work every step of the way. We are looking at the airplane nose to tail and we are sure that we pressure-test every single aspect. We are working with the FAA on a daily basis, making sure they understand the analysis and any rework that is required. We are doing it first to our satisfaction and second to the satisfaction of the regulator. I couldn’t give you a schedule right now. We will get done when we will get done.”
Boeing has over 100 undelivered 787s, of which an unspecified number will need rework to solve the earlier shimming issues on the fuselage and forward pressure bulkhead. It isn’t known to what extent the rework now also includes the bonding issues, which will be very difficult to do. Boeing said in October that the 787 issues this year will result in some $1.0 billion in abnormal costs.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News and until July 1 2023 in a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.