Boeing will temporarily suspend all 787 production in South Carolina. Given that the manufacturer has also stopped production in Seattle, it’s the end of the road for the 787 Dreamliner for the time being. Boeing is citing the global viral pandemic and its ripple effects as factors behind the decision. The aircraft manufacturer says it will take an orderly approach to restarting production on a future undetermined date.
In a statement, Brad Zaback, vice president and general manager of the 787 Program and Boeing South Carolina site leader said;
“It is our commitment to focus on the health and safety of our teammates while assessing the spread of the virus across the state, its impact on the reliability of our global supply chain and that ripple effect on the 787 program.”
Production of 787 Dreamliner to stop on Wednesday
The suspension will take effect at the end of the second shift on Wednesday, April 8. Boeing notes that employees who work remotely can continue to do so. Those who don’t work remotely will be paid leave for the first 10 working days of the suspension. At the end of those 10 days, employees can draw upon their paid accrued leave or apply for emergency state unemployment benefits.
There have been a series of problems with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program for the last decade. These problems have been overshadowed by the 737 MAX debacle and this year’s viral pandemic.
Boeing South Carolina long dogged by production and quality issues
But the South Carolina production facility has long been dogged by claims of questionable production practices and poor oversight, both combining to raise significant safety concerns.
Earlier this year, former 787 quality manager John Barnett who worked at Boeing for two decades blew the whistle. He told media;
“I haven’t seen a plane out if Charleston yet that I would consider safe and airworthy.
“I would not fly on a Dreamliner and I’ve asked my family and begged my family not to fly Dreamliners because I know, I know what’s under the skin.”
This is one voice and there may well be an underlying agenda behind Mr Barnett’s media interviews. But he isn’t the only former employee to step forward. What is undisputed is a pattern of poor workmanship and untidy practices at Boeing South Carolina. This has resulted in quality and safety issues like metal shavings been left near electrical wiring. These problems were raised in a recent Simple Flying podcast.
A year ago, a New York Times analysis of hundreds of pages of Boeing emails, federal records, and interviews, found an ingrained culture at Boeing South Carolina. That culture valued speed over quality. The reasons for that could be traced back to long-standing delays in the 787 Dreamliner production.
Boeing has long defended the Dreamliner
Boeing has long defended its 787 Dreamliner program and hit out at the whistle blowers. Kevin McAllister, Boeing’s head of commercial airplanes, has said in a statement;
“Boeing South Carolina teammates are producing the highest levels of quality in our history.
“I am proud of our teams’ exceptional commitment to quality and stand behind the work they do each and every day.”
Despite these words, not everyone was happy. Issues at South Carolina became so acute and well known that Qatar Airways would no longer accept planes from the factory. They cited manufacturing problems, damaged aircraft, and delayed deliveries as reasons.
To an extent, that’s all water under the bridge. Today’s announcement by Boeing is a real shame. Systemic problems at South Carolina combined with the downturn in travel demand and an impending global recession probably forced Boeing’s hand. The 787 now joins the 737 MAX in production hiatus.
It is in everybody’s interest to have a vibrant and competitive aircraft manufacturing industry. Let’s hope, one day soon, Boeing gets its mojo back.