UPDATE – Another quality issue has hit the Boeing 787. This time, it isn’t composites that are questioned but the structural integrity of certain titanium parts that are used inside the cabin. AirInsight learns that Boeing has been dealing with the issue for at least seven months, but the problems were reported only today by Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Boeing knew of latest 787 issue since March.
The 787 has been under review now since August 2019, when Boeing identified issues with shimming on the aft fuselage on aircraft that were produced early in 2019. A year later in September 2020, a skin flatness issue on carbon fiber fuselage sections was found. This was followed by the discovery of a shimming issue in the nose with the forward pressure bulkhead. Boeing, the FAA, and its suppliers started an extensive review of engineering and manufacturing procedures to trace the root cause of the issues. Until the FAA is fully satisfied that Boeing and its suppliers have taken adequate action, deliveries of the 787 remain suspended. So far, Boeing only delivered fourteen Dreamliners this year between March and late May, when the latest pause was announced.
As part of the continued audit, Boeing says it has found the problem with titanium parts. According to Reuters, they include fitting to secure the floor beams and parts used as spacers, brackets, and clips in sub-assemblies. The FAA and Boeing say that the issue isn’t an urgent safety of flight risk. The regulator will have to decide how it should be solved on the in-service 787s through a service bulletin and/or Airworthiness Directive. Dreamliners that have to be delivered will be reworked.
The specific titanium parts were sourced from Leonardo SpA in Italy. Leonardo sourced them from Brindisi-based Manufacturing Processes Specification, MPS. The company was established in 1998 as Processi Speciali and changed its name to MPS in 2018. It was specialized in CNC machining. The website of the company is out of business ‘because of maintenance’.
Boeing warned suppliers of MPS
AirInsight learns that Boeing knew of the latest 787 issue since March. On March 19, Boeing advised its key suppliers to be aware of MPS. Boeing Commercial Airplanes Procurement Agent, Lisa Kerr, wrote a letter to Spirit AeroSystems on MPS, which had been an approved supplier under the D1-4426 approval process since 2018. MPS also produced parts for Airbus and Embraer.
Kerr writes: “Boeing has been conducting an audit of various aspects of MPS’s operations, and that audit is currently ongoing. Based on our findings so far, Boeing has suspended MPS’s D1-4426 approval. We understand that MPS’s NADCAP approval and EN9100 AQMS certification have also been suspended. (…) Out of an abundance of caution, while Boeing conducts further testing and evaluation, Boeing has also decided to consider all product processed by MPS to be suspect.”
The reason Boeing informed Spirit is explained later: “We are currently aware that your company used MPS as a processor or supplier of at least those parts listed in the enclosed Exhibit A. Boeing requires your immediate action to assist with our investigation and related containment assessment.”
Boeing then asks Spirit to identify all MPS parts it has processed since 2017, including part numbers, dates, and quantities. “If any such parts are still present in your quality management system, please capture and control them as suspect nonconforming, and please include the location and quantity of those quarantined parts.” The airframer also wants to know if other suppliers to Spirit are still using MPS parts. Spirit was requested to respond within two weeks “due to the significance of this work.” In August, the FAA requested further investigation. As is known now, the quality problem affects parts on the 787 and not on other models.
MPS is under scrutiny by Italian prosecutors
In a media statement, Leonardo said on Thursday night: “Regarding the statements reported on the press on issues concerning components for the B787, Leonardo informs that issues are to be ascribed to Manufacturing Processes Specification S.r.l. (MPS), one of the subsuppliers qualified also by Boeing. The subsupplier is under scrutiny by prosecutors therefore Leonardo is injured party and will not bear any potential costs associated with this issue. Moreover Manufacturing Processes Specification S.r.l. (MPS) is no longer a Leonardo supplier.”
The extent of the scrutiny by the Italian prosecutor isn’t clear, but shouldn’t be confused with the Banca MPS case, in which Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo was convicted to six years in prison in October 2020 for irregularities in the bank’s balance sheet. Profumo is still CEO with the Italian OEM.
It’s not the first time that Boeing is confronted with parts of insufficient quality that were sourced from Leonardo, previously known as Finmeccanica. Back in August 2017, the Americans wrote a letter to Leonardo to complain about quality defects found on parts for the 767 produced at the Pomigliano-plant. Boeing put Leonardo on probation.
A year earlier in 2016, it did the same over quality issues on the 787 fuselage sections produced at the Grottaglie-plant. Leonardo solved the issues and was deleted from the probation list after 4,5 months.
Bombardier also suffered quality problems with Leonardo, complaining in February 2017 about the delivery of non-compliant parts of the first in-production CSeries.
AirInsight asked Boeing to comment on the issue. In a written response, the airframer says:
“We received a notice from one of our suppliers about certain 787 parts that were improperly manufactured. While our investigation is ongoing, we have determined that this does not present an immediate safety of flight concern for the active in-service fleet. Yet-to-deliver airplanes will be reworked as necessary prior to customer delivery. Any potential fleet actions will be determined through our normal review process and confirmed with the FAA.”
Asked if Boeing considers itself to be an ‘injured party’ as is claimed by Leonardo or that Boeing is involved in the investigation by the Italian prosecutors into MPS, Boeing says: “We’ll refer you to authorities for any information about the investigation.”