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May 19, 2024

New Fuselage Issues Further Delay Boeing 737 MAX

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Feb 5, 2024

Boeing continues to face challenges getting its beleaguered 737 MAX aircraft back in the air and delivering new planes to customers. The company recently disclosed that fuselages for some 50 undelivered 737 MAX jets will require reworking after its supplier Spirit Aerosystems flagged issues related to how certain parts were joined. This latest setback will hamper Boeing’s efforts to clear its substantial backlog of undelivered MAX planes.

Background on the Boeing 737 MAX Crisis

The Boeing 737 MAX has been grounded globally since March 2019 following two devastating crashes that killed 346 people. Investigations found that the accidents were caused in part by issues with the aircraft’s flight control system, known as MCAS.

Following the crashes and grounding, Boeing made changes to MCAS and other systems on the MAX. However, the company continues working to recertify the plane and resume deliveries to airline customers who have hundreds of MAX jets on order.

Boeing built up a backlog of about 450 undelivered MAX planes while the jet was grounded. The company finally resumed deliveries in late 2022 but at a very slow pace as it continues working through inspections and paperwork required by regulators before each plane can be handed over to airlines.

The new fuselage issues threaten to further hamper efforts to work through the backlog and get the 737 MAX fully back up to speed.

Misaligned Parts Cause Latest Setback

On February 3, Boeing said issues were discovered with the join where the fuselage sections are connected on some 50 undelivered MAX aircraft. The problem was flagged by Spirit AeroSystems, who build the fuselages at a factory in Wichita, Kansas before shipping them to Boeing’s final assembly plant in Renton, Washington.

Spirit determined that parts on the fuselage were “misaligned” on some completed sections for the 737 MAX planes. The misalignment means that improper gaps exist between fuselage panels on affected aircraft.

While not a safety issue, the gaps violate Boeing’s specifications for how the fuselages are supposed to fit together. Without intervention, the gaps could lead to long-term maintenance problems or shorter lifespan of the fuselage.

Boeing says the problem arose because a router used to drill holes connecting fuselage panels was not calibrated correctly. So holes were drilled in the wrong positions, leading to the misalignment of certain parts.

The issue went undetected as quality control did not catch the minute fuselage gaps caused by misaligned parts, allowing fuselage sections to continue shipping up to Boeing’s final assembly plant.

Fuselages for 50 MAX Jets Require Reworking

Upon discovery of the problem, Boeing immediately stopped any new fuselage shipments from Spirit to allow time to identify which completed sections require reworking.

In total, fuselages for some 50 MAX aircraft were found to have the issue. Most of the affected fuselages are still sitting at the Spirit factory in Wichita. A few completed sections had already been shipped for integration with other parts at Boeing’s MAX plant in Renton.

Boeing says the necessary rework will be completed at Spirit’s factory before the fuselages are shipped for final assembly. To fix the issue, fasteners and certain parts will have to be removed and re-drilled into the proper positions in order to realign everything correctly.

Spirit believes it can complete reworking all the affected fuselages by mid-2023. But the final schedule will depend on agreement from Boeing and regulatory oversight of the reworking process and parts.

MAX Deliveries Expected to Be Delayed Further

Getting certification for the reworking plan will take some time which is likely to further hamper Boeing’s 737 production and ability to work through its backlog of undelivered MAX planes.

At the start of 2023, Boeing set a target to deliver 70-80 MAX aircraft per month on average for the year. But early data showed the company delivered just 31 jets in January amidst various supply chain and parts issues.

Month 737 MAX Deliveries
January 2023 31
December 2022 40
November 2022 37

The fuselage problems represent another speedbump in efforts to regain momentum on MAX production. It may take 4-6 months to get certification and implement the reworking process before Spirit can resume shipping completed sections up to Boeing’s plants.

During that time, Boeing has some inventory of already completed fuselages it can use to maintain production. But that stock will eventually dwindle if the issues at Spirit are prolonged. Boeing may have to further trim monthly delivery targets for 2023 if fuselage shipments from Spirit remain frozen for a significant period.

Investors have kept a close eye on Boeing’s production rates as delays directly impact the company’s cash flow and revenues. So far Wall Street has expressed optimism that supply chain problems hampering Boeing’s commercial aircraft business will sort themselves out this year. But each new issue like this fuselage problem chips away at hopes of a meaningful recovery anytime soon.

Boeing says it is working closely with Spirit to quickly quantify the schedule impact and develop corrective measures. Meanwhile, industry analysts say it is increasingly unlikely Boeing reaches its goal of delivering up to 480 MAX jets in 2023. Much will depend on how fast the fuselage rework plan is approved and implemented without any further delays.

Uncertainty Remains High for Boeing and the 737 Program

Nearly 5 years removed from the MAX crashes that catalyzed Boeing’s ongoing crisis, uncertainty remains high around the company’s commercial aircraft business.

Boeing desperately needs to resume efficient production of the cash-generating 737 to stabilize itself financially. But myriad issues keep arising that prevent the MAX program from getting back on steady footing.

Now problems with how a key supplier builds the fuselages threaten to hamper MAX deliveries and production recovery for most of 2023. It exemplifies how quality control failures made years ago continue cropping up to undermine progress for Boeing.

Until Boeing can overcome these lingering effects from past mistakes, uncertainty will dominate around the company’s outlook. Investor patience has worn thin and airlines waiting on late MAX deliveries continue losing faith that Boeing can get itself on an even keel anytime soon.

More positive developments cannot come soon enough for the struggling aerospace giant. But the road ahead looks bumpier than ever thanks to this latest issue originating from years-old quality control failures on parts production. Boeing must answer tough questions around why such problems continue plaguing a plane that is supposed to represent the company’s future even as the crisis drags towards its 6th year.

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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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