News:

Last week, Jon Ostrower broke the news that eight Boeing 787s were discovered to have structural problems and were grounded when Boeing informed the airlines of their discovery. Given the history of Boeing Charleston, we are skeptical that the final tally will be only eight airplanes.

Boeing’s Charleston facility, one of two assembling the 787, has been plagued with quality control issues for some time. The mild and meek Dutch at KLM complained about 787 quality, Singapore Airlines found a ladder left in the tail section of one of the airplanes delivered to it, and Qatar Airways has specified in its contract that it will only accept 787s built in Everett, Washington. The industry is well aware of quality problems at Charleston, as is Boeing.

These latest revelations raise serious questions about Boeing’s quality control and processes of shimming carbon fiber structures. A key question is where is the FAA in all of this? The answer, it appears, is nowhere to be found. The grounding was mandated by Boeing, not the FAA, the agency responsible for the safe manufacturing of airplanes, who likely were not even aware of the potential problem until Boeing mentioned it. The same agency that approved the ill-fated 737 MAX apparently remains blissfully unaware of potentially serious structural issues that resulted from production anomalies. A pressure bulkhead area failure could be catastrophic.

Analysis

There is tremendous pressure on Boeing, both externally and internally, to be on-time and on-budget with production. If everything goes smoothly without snags, the process is fine. But an airplane has a million or so parts, give or take, that must be synchronized and work with each other. A quality failure in one part could have repercussions and is one failure too many. When that happens, a part is replaced, or a process reworked to ensure that specifications are met. But timing and budget can be negatively impacted, and a “hurry up” attitude, with pressure to complete tasks quickly, may result in less than desired levels of workmanship. And therein lies the problem – pressures for the schedule that could over-ride quality.

The latest event has arisen during a pandemic when Boeing’s production volume has been cut in half and that two assembly facilities are no longer needed for the 787. Thus a consolidation in Charleston is quite likely. The problem is that the consolidation will occur in the facility noted for poorer quality control of the two, and that should require remedial action.

While a decision hasn’t been finalized, a move away from the high costs of the Pacific Northwest to a lower-cost non-union facility in the Southeast makes sense economically. The move of Boeing headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001 should have signaled the beginning of a transition from the Pacific Northwest elsewhere. Consolidation in Charleston for the 787 maybe just the first blow, as the forthcoming FSA, or future small aircraft, that eventually replaces the MAX is very unlikely to be built in either Renton or the Puget Sound region. By 2032, Boeing Commercial may produce only the 767 and 777X in Washington State, with the bulk of its production in the Southeast.

Insight

Self-regulation of industries doesn’t work and never has. Given opportunities to cut corners, it seems to be human nature in the business world to do so, whether in aerospace, pharmaceuticals, or other regulated industries that entail oligopoly participants. The FAA has a process in place to regulate the manufacturing of aircraft, the production certificate process that enables companies like Boeing to self-check their product quality without the need for FAA inspection of each and every aircraft.

When that process fails repeatedly, as the evidence shows it has in Charleston, the FAA needs to act, and pull Boeing’s production certificate until quality problems are cleaned up once and for all. But Boeing is the country’s biggest exporter, and suffering greatly from the pandemic, so an apparent “let it be” attitude exists in Washington DC.

That attitude is sending the wrong message to the industry, and especially to Boeing, which apparently no longer can claim the “highest quality” reputation it once had after 787 and 737 MAX safety groundings.  But with production rates low, Boeing has an opportunity to “get things right” before it consolidates 787 production in Charleston. Meanwhile, the FAA continues to sleep.

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President AirInsight Group LLC


News:

Last week, Jon Ostrower broke the news that eight Boeing 787s were discovered to have structural problems and were grounded when Boeing informed the airlines of their discovery. Given the history of Boeing Charleston, we are skeptical that the final tally will be only eight airplanes.

Boeing’s Charleston facility, one of two assembling the 787, has been plagued with quality control issues for some time. The mild and meek Dutch at KLM complained about 787 quality, Singapore Airlines found a ladder left in the tail section of one of the airplanes delivered to it, and Qatar Airways has specified in its contract that it will only accept 787s built in Everett, Washington. The industry is well aware of quality problems at Charleston, as is Boeing.

These latest revelations raise serious questions about Boeing’s quality control and processes of shimming carbon fiber structures. A key question is where is the FAA in all of this? The answer, it appears, is nowhere to be found. The grounding was mandated by Boeing, not the FAA, the agency responsible for the safe manufacturing of airplanes, who likely were not even aware of the potential problem until Boeing mentioned it. The same agency that approved the ill-fated 737 MAX apparently remains blissfully unaware of potentially serious structural issues that resulted from production anomalies. A pressure bulkhead area failure could be catastrophic.

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