The Boeing 737 MAX Probe Is Now Investigating The 787 Dreamliner

The US Department of Justice has issued a subpoena to Boeing regarding their 787 production. The subpoena relates to their factory at North Charleston in South Carolina, suggesting the 737 MAX investigation is beginning to spread further into the company.

Boeing 787-10
Boeing’s Dreamliner is now under scrutiny too. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

With the world’s attention on the 737 MAX and the ongoing issues with returning the aircraft to service, previous problems with the 787 Dreamliner had largely been swept under the rug. Or so Boeing hoped.

However, now the US government has subpoenaed records from the Boeing plant in South Carolina, suggesting that the investigation is now spreading further than just the issues with the 737 MAX.

What’s happening?

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has issued a subpoena to the South Carolina plant of Boeing, which is where the 787 Dreamliner is produced, sources told the Seattle Times. Although it is unclear at this stage whether these are the same prosecutors investigating the 737 MAX issues, it signifies a widening of scope regarding problems at Boeing in general.

Boeing South Carolina
The larger 787-10 is exclusively made at Boeing’s South Carolina facility. Photo: Paul Thompson via Flickr

Boeing’s Dreamliner production is split between the facility in South Carolina and Everett. Issues were brought to light back in April this year, suggesting there could be problems in the production processes at North Charleston. Reportedly, waste materials including tools and metal shavings had been discovered in completed aircraft, leading some customers, including Qatar, to reject their delivered planes.

However, Boeing hit back at these claims, saying that they painted “a skewed and inaccurate picture of the program and of our team here at Boeing South Carolina”. Now it seems that they may have been some truth in the rumors. No details on what has been requested or whether it relates to these previous claims has been released, but clearly Boeing are in deeper hot water than they might have thought.

Ongoing issues

This latest addition to the ongoing saga of Boeing’s safety issues comes on top of numerous developments in the 737 MAX investigation. While details of the grand-jury investigation into the MAX has been kept under wraps, whistleblowers have been feeding titbits of information which suggest there are some big problems at the US manufacturer.

737 MAX
The MAX investigation has turned up problem after problem. Photo: Boeing

What initially seemed to be a simple software issue has widened into a major worry regarding the safety of these planes. Just last week, simulator testing by the FAA threw up issues with the ‘runaway stabilizer procedure’ which has sent Boeing back to the drawing board for a new software fix.

Negative press around the outsourcing of software development to cheap foreign labor has also set tongues wagging in recent days, leading many to ask whether the MAX will fly at all in 2019.

The 787 itself was not a smooth entry into service. Airlines all over the world have been forced to ground their Dreamliners due to problems with the Trent 1000 engines. There have also been reported issues with GPS systems and a battery overheating problem which grounded the entire fleet in 2013.

Air Austral's Boeing 787s Are Now Grounded Over Trent 1000 Issue
Air Austral is the most recent airline to ground the 787 over engine issues. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Flickr

Although we don’t know the details of the investigation into the 787, and how it relates to problems with the MAX, it’s likely that prosecutors are keen to take an overall look at the culture within Boeing. Should more safety issues be turned up, it could further set back the timeframe for the MAX re-entry into service and raise worrying questions about the wider fleet of Boeing aircraft in service.

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