SEATTLE- Boeing announced on Sunday that it will need to conduct additional work on approximately 50 undelivered 737 MAX aircraft, which could potentially result in delays for some imminent deliveries.
This decision follows the discovery by its supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, of two mis-drilled holes on certain fuselages. Boeing confirmed these findings in response to a Reuters inquiry, acknowledging that an issue with “edge margin,” or spacing, had been identified in holes drilled on a window frame in some of the aircraft.
Boeing 737 MAX Quality Defect
Facing scrutiny from regulators and airlines following the January 5 incident involving a door plug blowout on a 737 MAX 9, Boeing assured that safety remains unaffected, and currently operational 737s can continue flying.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal addressed the issue in a letter to staff, stating, “This past Thursday, a supplier informed us of a non-conformance in some 737 fuselages. I want to express gratitude to an employee at the supplier who brought to the attention of their manager that two holes may not have been drilled exactly to our requirements.” Deal referred to Spirit, the exclusive 737 fuselage supplier.
In the letter, initially disclosed exclusively by Reuters, Deal mentioned, ‘Although this possible condition does not pose an immediate flight safety concern, and all 737s can maintain safe operations, we anticipate having to conduct rework on approximately 50 undelivered aircraft.’
Joe Buccino, spokesperson for Spirit, informed Reuters that as a component of their comprehensive quality management program, a team member identified an issue that did not adhere to engineering standards.
“We are actively engaged in ongoing communication with Boeing regarding this issue,” he stated.
Rework to be Done in a Week
Deal mentioned that Boeing intends to allocate several “factory days” this week at the Renton 737 plant near Seattle to address the misaligned holes and complete outstanding tasks.
These dedicated days allow teams to temporarily pause regular operations and focus on specific tasks without halting production. The exact duration of the rework process is expected to be determined in the coming days.
This initiative is the latest in Boeing’s efforts to enhance operational efficiency following the door plug blowout incident on an Alaska Airlines (AS) jet, drawing attention to the need for stricter quality controls.
Investigators exploring whether bolts on the Alaska Airlines door plug were either missing or improperly fitted are anticipated to release an interim report this week.
Simultaneously, Boeing has requested an undisclosed major supplier to halt shipments until the tasks are completed according to specifications, Deal noted. He added, “While this shipment delay will impact our production schedule, it will enhance overall quality and stability.” Boeing clarified that parts already meeting the correct specifications can continue to be shipped.
No Production Expansion
The U.S. regulatory authority has instructed Boeing to maintain the current production rate of 38 jets per month for an unspecified duration due to quality issues, postponing the planned production increases to meet the growing demand for new aircraft.
Boeing has indicated its commitment to continuing the purchase of parts from suppliers at previously scheduled higher rates to alleviate the impact they may face during the freeze in production growth.
The inspections on the 737 MAX specifically target the potential misalignment of two holes on a window frame assembly provided by Spirit, referred to as “short edge margin,” according to industry sources. The term “edge margins” pertains to the gap between a fastener and the edge of a metal sheet, and strict specifications are in place to minimize the risk of metal fatigue over the long term.
Historically, the FAA has occasionally mandated inspections to address cracks resulting from mis-drilled fastener holes. As of Friday, the identified “non-conformance” or quality defect had been detected in 22 fuselages out of 47 inspected at that point, spanning both Boeing and Spirit.
There is a possibility that this issue may be present in some 737s currently in service, according to the sources.
Enhanced Quality Inspections
The revelations surfaced through a routine notification called a Notice of Escapement, where suppliers inform Boeing about any acknowledged or suspected instances of compromised quality, as per the sources. While such quality reports are standard in aerospace, the timing of this discovery coincides with heightened scrutiny on Boeing and its top-selling jet following the emergency incident with Alaska Airlines.
In response to the Alaska Airlines incident, Boeing, in the previous month, urged its suppliers to enhance their inspections, emphasizing the “imperative” nature of meeting stringent quality requirements, according to a memo obtained by Reuters.
Insiders familiar with the situation indicated that Boeing and Spirit have not yet reached a consensus on the extent to which the mis-drilled holes need correction and how many of the errors are considered minor enough to permit the use of the fuselages “as is.”
Spirit, which separated from Boeing in 2005, is scheduled to unveil its earnings on Tuesday. The Boeing 737s are assembled in Renton, located outside Seattle, using fuselages transported by train from Spirit’s facility in Wichita, Kansas.
Stay tuned with us. Further, follow us on social media for the latest updates.