FAA Weighing Inspections For Boeing 787s After 8 Were Grounded

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reviewing issues that came up previously regarding the Boeing 787 that may mandate further inspection of as many as 900 already delivered Dreamliners. The move comes as the FAA examines issues that led Boeing to ground eight of the type over structural issues.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner
The FAA is considering mandating inspections for Boeing 787s. Photo: Getty Images

The grounding of eight Boeing 787 Dreamliners

Back in August, Boeing instructed several customers to ground a total of eight Dreamliners over structural issues. The planes were found to have issues with the rear fuselage, which were not up to Boeing’s design standards. Boeing alerted the FAA and has been studying the flaw itself to figure out where in the process things went wrong and how to correct it, so it does not happen in the future. The FAA, on its end, is also reviewing the issue.

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Thus far, there have been no incidents with the Boeing 787s as it relates to this specific issue. Hundreds of the planes are still in safe operation every day on a variety of short- and long-haul routes. Except for those eight planes, the remaining in-service fleet, per Boeing, meets limit load capability. As for newly produced and in-production airplanes, Boeing is also reviewing those to ensure that any issues are identified before the jets are delivered.

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Singapore Airlines was one carrier that had to ground a Boeing 787. Photo: Getty Images

What was the specific issue?

Boeing noted that some of the airplanes have shims installed that are not the proper size. Some airlines also did not have areas that met skin flatness specifications per the manufacturer’s engineering standards. Even though they are not up to specifications, Boeing noted that the issues still met load conditions.

The problem, however, came when the issues were combined in the same location. This would mean the aircraft does not meet the limit load requirements. As a result, these planes that had the problems in the same place were pulled from service and are being fixed.

A 787 Dreamliner
The structural issues were the latest in a saga of concerns coming from Boeing’s North Charleston facilities. Photo: Getty Images

The FAA could mandate inspections

A Wall Street Journal report highlights a memo from the FAA in which the regulatory agency is reviewing issues surrounding nonconforming parts and manufacturing defects that led Boeing to ground eight of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

According to the memo, the FAA is considering a mandate for inspections that could cover hundreds of Dreamliners. This, however, would not be out of the norm for the regulatory agency. The FAA does commonly examine issues that manufacturers or airlines may alert it to regarding potential defects or problems that could need to be addressed on planes to ensure safe operations.

Inspections are also not as intensive as full alterations to a plane, which is good news for operators. Even though there is less flying now, reactivating a parked aircraft to cover for a grounded in-service jet is not the easiest of tasks. Some of these inspections could likely, depending on the extent to which the FAA would choose to mandate it, could be taken care of in a few block hours when the aircraft is on the ground, perhaps overnight or else for several hours during the day.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner factory
Several planes were installed with nonconforming shims. Photo: Getty Images

Depending on how serious the FAA considers the problem may be on other aircraft, it has the ability to mandate inspections much more quickly. Although, that has the downside of causing some headaches for an airline’s scheduling team.

An inspection does not equal anything being wrong. As noted above, there have been no specific incidents tied to the issue, and hundreds of planes around the world are still taking off and landing, safely carrying passengers, cargo, or both. However, inspections would require airlines to double-check and ensure that their planes do not have the combination of issues in a location where the plane would not meet its limit load requirements.

If an inspection were to reveal an issue, an airline would likely have to ground the aircraft immediately and conduct repairs. Depending on the specific nature of the concerns, some or all of those repairs could be covered by Boeing. Of course, those specifics vary from plane-to-plane and airline-to-airline. It also depends on what specific issues are found.

The South Carolina Boeing 787 production facility has been dogged by quality and safety concerns in the past. Photo: Getty Images.

Simple Flying reached out to the FAA for comment on the story. The FAA offered the following statement:

“The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating manufacturing flaws affecting certain Boeing 787 jetliners. The agency continues to engage with Boeing. It is too early to speculate about the nature or extent of any proposed Airworthiness Directives that might arise from the agency’s investigation.”

The importance of the memo

The existence of an internal memo shows that Boeing is taking the issue seriously. Boeing will work closely with the FAA on the topic to rectify it and identify ways to remedy the situation permanently. Per the report referenced earlier, the FAA is keenly focused on how the breakdowns in manufacturing occurred and why the safeguards in place to prevent such mismatches or nonconforming parts from being installed failed. In addition, the agency is also going to focus on how to move forward from here and what can be done to ensure this never happens again.

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Neither the FAA nor Boeing have identified any additional 787s that must be grounded over structural concerns. Photo: Getty Images

Boeing, on its part, will need to focus on preventing such an issue from occurring ever again. The manufacturer needs to get a tighter grip on its manufacturing process. Boeing identified the suspect shims in August 2019 and did reactivate a computerized quality check done that searches for improper shims.

Boeing is also going back and looking at how many other 787 Dreamliners could be impacted by these nonconforming shims. As for the North Charleston facility, where the shims were produced, this represents another quality and safety issue that Boeing needs to look into.

Investigations take time, and the FAA is continuing to review the situation. Once both Boeing and the FAA complete their respective reviews, it will become clearer what the overall consequence of these issues is and the best way to proceed for both the agency and the manufacturer. For now, however, the 787 continues to fly and is still deemed airworthy and safe by regulatory agencies across the globe.

Do you think the FAA will mandate inspections for Boeing 787 Dreamliners? Let us know in the comments!