Boeing Expands Search for Structural Defects on 787 Dreamliners

Boeing Co. has widened its inspections of newly built 787 Dreamliner planes to hunt for additional manufacturing defects that could prematurely age the jets’ carbon-fiber frames.

While U.S. regulators say the faults don’t pose an immediate hazard, the emergence of another flaw in Boeing’s most advanced jetliner is slowing deliveries and raising doubts about quality controls. The company didn’t deliver any 787 jets in November, Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith said earlier this month, citing inspections that took longer than expected.

The latest issue involves tiny variances, or wrinkles, in the interior lining where composite fuselage barrels are linked to create the Dreamliner’s structure. In some instances, the so-called join “may not meet skin flatness tolerances,” Boeing said in an emailed statement.

The Chicago-based planemaker has asked suppliers to review their processes, adding that “certain items” had come to light as it beefed up its quality assurance program over the last 12 months.

Boeing is inspecting 787s in factories, as well as newly built aircraft that are awaiting delivery, said a person familiar with the matter. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration are analyzing data to determine the best course of action for Dreamliners that are already in service.

The shares erased gains after the Wall Street Journal reported the new inspections. Boeing fell less than 1% to $228.62 at the close in New York.

‘Oversight Process’

The FAA confirmed that it’s working with Boeing on the issue but didn’t provide additional details.

“The FAA continuously engages with Boeing through established Continued Operational Safety and manufacturing oversight processes to appropriately address any issues that might arise,” the agency said in a statement.

Regulators don’t believe the issues uncovered by Boeing’s review create an immediate safety risk, said another person familiar with the agency’s thinking. That suggests that any inspections required to monitor the problem don’t need to be conducted immediately. Allowing operators to perform inspections during regularly scheduled maintenance can dramatically lower their costs.

The regulator has been weighing possible enforcement action against Boeing for lapses in how the company oversees its manufacturing operations.

Hair’s Width

Boeing slowed 787 deliveries earlier this year as it discovered improper gaps that could affect the horizontal stabilizer of about 900 Dreamliners.

The planemaker asked airlines to ground eight of the jets in August over a separate issue involving two rear fuselage barrels that are integrated at its South Carolina plant. For the afflicted aircraft, joiners known as shims weren’t as wide as the space they were supposed to fill and rubbed against rough inner lining.

In both of the earlier instances as well as the latest one, any gap or variation that is greater than 0.005 inch -- about the thickness of a human hair -- exceeds the maximum allowable tolerance.

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