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A United 787-9 in Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

FAA to Review 787 Quality Lapses

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to investigate several quality lapses during the manufacturing process of the Boeing 787, according to an internal FAA memo. 

In the memo, dated Aug. 31 2020 and obtained by the Wall Street Journal, the agency is looking into structural quality issues with construction of the aft fuselage section that can potentially affect up to 900 aircraft. 

Boeing voluntarily self-disclosed the structural defects to the FAA in August. The plane-maker reportedly said some airplanes have shims installed that are not the proper size, and some airplanes have surfaces that do not meet skin flatness specifications.

“Individually these issues, while not up to specifications, still meet limit load conditions. When combined in the same location however, they result in a condition that does not meet limit load requirements,” Boeing said in its report to the FAA. 

Unlike ultimate load, which is the failure point of the structure, limit load is the maximum expected stress the aircraft structure should ever experience in service.

In a separate report also obtained by the Journal, Boeing also reported earlier in the year that a manufacturing problem was discovered with the plane’s horizontal stabilizer at the rear of the jet. Boeing stated the problem was not an immediate safety-of-flight issue.

Boeing’s analysis of the fuselage structural defects found that eight aircraft had both defects in the same structural location and has contacted the airlines operating the aircraft and recommended their grounding until repairs are made. Aircraft for United Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Air Canada are believed to be impacted, according to a report by The Air Current.

The FAA did not indicate if it plans to mandate inspections or repairs to the 787 fleet. If it did, it could potentially issue an Airworthiness Directive that could extend to over 1,000 787s in service.

The structural issue with the fuselage is the first publicly known instance on the 787’s carbon fiber airframe, a new process used on the Dreamliner. Boeing grounded the entire 787 fleet in 2013 following overheating and fires with the aircraft’s lithium-ion batteries. 

The source of the newly discovered fuselage structural issue has been traced to a mating point inside the aft fuselage between two carbon fiber composite barrels, known as Section 47/48. According to two Air Current reports, the pieces are fabricated and joined with the aft pressure bulkhead at Boeing’s North Charleston, S.C. plant and then delivered for final assembly to the company’s nearby final assembly building or flown to Everett, Washington for assembly.

The quality lapses come at a time when Boeing is considering the consolidation of 787 production to a single site. Currently, the 787 is assembled in both Everett, Washington and North Charleston, South Carolina. While a decision has not yet been made, industry followers expect South Carolina to win the 787 assembly decision.

Rick Shideler
Rick Shideler
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