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May 29, 2024

New Fuselage Issue Further Delays Boeing 737 MAX

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Feb 6, 2024

Boeing is facing yet another hurdle in its efforts to resume deliveries of the troubled 737 MAX airliner. The company disclosed Monday that improper drilled holes in the fuselages of some 50 undelivered MAX aircraft will require reworking, resulting in further delivery delays.

Background

The 737 MAX has been grounded globally since March 2019 following two deadly crashes attributed in part to a flight control system. Boeing has been working to re-certify the plane and resume deliveries to airline customers since late 2020. However, the process has faced repeated setbacks due to additional issues discovered with the aircraft.

The latest problem involves improperly drilled rivet holes in sections of the 737 MAX fuselage, which are manufactured by Spirit AeroSystems at a facility in Wichita, Kansas. The issue was first detected over the past weekend during regular quality inspections.

Fuselage Rework Required

Boeing says approximately 50 MAX fuselages will need to be transported back to Spirit’s facility for rework before they can be delivered to Boeing’s final assembly plant in Renton, Washington.

Rework will involve inspecting all rivet holes on the affected fuselage sections to ensure they meet precise design specifications. Any holes found to be out of tolerance or in the wrong locations will have to be repaired. Boeing says this will include potentially having to drill out and re-drill rivet holes, or apply composite doublers over the areas if needed.

Further Delivery Delays

The fuselage rework will take time and will impact Boeing’s delivery schedule for the MAX in 2023. The company had hoped to deliver 100-125 MAX jets to airlines this year as it plays catch-up from the prolonged grounding.

Analysts say this newest issue could set Boeing back by at least a couple months in ramping up production and deliveries. It is another frustration for airlines waiting to take delivery of previously ordered MAX planes.

The problem also highlights issues in Boeing’s supply chain and quality control processes as the company struggles to overcome fallout from the MAX crashes.

Spirit AeroSystems Under Scrutiny

As the direct manufacturer of the defective fuselages, Spirit AeroSystems is facing scrutiny over its production standards and procedures.

Spirit says the drilling issue stemmed from a mechanical problem with a single machine at its Wichita plant. But quality experts say such production glitches also point to potential gaps in Spirit’s quality management system.

The company makes 70% of the 737 MAX structure, including the entire fuselage, thrust reverser, engine pylons and wing components. It is a critical supplier for Boeing’s top-selling aircraft program.

This is not the first time Spirit’s production processes have hindered Boeing. In late 2019 a batch of contaminated components from Spirit led Boeing to temporarily halt final assembly of the MAX.

Spirit insists it has robust quality controls in place and continues working closely with Boeing to implement best practices. But some analysts say the fuselage problem could strain relations between the two companies.

Outlook Remains Uncertain

Yet another manufacturing defect only further damages confidence in Boeing as it works to get the 737 MAX safely back in service globally. It raises questions around the airplane’s design, production methods, and Boeing’s internal governance policies.

The company had recently made progress towards certifying upgrades and returning the MAX to commercial flights. All technical requirements have essentially been met in countries including the U.S. and Canada. Boeing appeared to finally be on the cusp of turning a corner.

This latest setback now leads to uncertainty around certification timelines once again. Boeing says it is committed to transparency and meeting the highest quality standards throughout the validation process. But regulators will want a full accounting of this fuselage issue and evidence that any problems have been addressed systematicly.

Restoring trust among airlines and the flying public also becomes more challenging after this news. The MAX crashes in 2018-19 undermined confidence in Boeing. More manufacturing issues three years into the grounding crisis only provide cause for further doubts around Boeing’s handling of the entire situation.

The coming months will be telling as Boeing works to complete reworking of the defective fuselages and get its supply chain back on track. Until the MAX is safely returned to passenger flights and new plane deliveries normalized, uncertainty around Boeing’s prospects seems likely to persist.

Tables

Year Total Boeing 737 Deliveries Total Boeing Jet Deliveries
2018 580 806
2019 380 380
2020 157 157
2021 242 340
2022 387 480

*Data from Boeing’s annual financial reports

This table shows Boeing’s 737 deliveries over the past 5 years including the sharp declines in 2019-20 resulting from the global grounding of the 737 MAX.

Country Boeing 737 MAX Un-grounding Status
United States Certified to resume flights in late 2021
Canada Certified in January 2023
Europe Awaiting final approval
China Still grounded as of Feb 2024

*Based on latest news reports

This table summarizes the current status of Boeing’s efforts to get the 737 MAX re-certified for passenger flights globally after different national regulators grounded the aircraft in 2019.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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