Despite Latest Setback, Boeing Maintains 787 Delivery Target

Boeing 787 takes flight

Boeing halted 787 deliveries in late January, just five months after resuming from a prolonged pause.

Credit: Boeing

Boeing is confident that an unexpected holdup on 787 deliveries will not derail the company’s planned ramp-up in customer hand-overs through the year.

The lone 787 delivered in February—a 787-10 to United Airlines—was approved by the FAA before a recent stoppage linked to airworthiness limitation data.

  • No 787s were approved for delivery in February
  • Issue linked to certification data
  • Full-year delivery target of 70-80 not affected

Deliveries were stopped in late January because of what Boeing called an “engineering analysis error” linked to the redesigned forward pressure bulkhead supplied by Spirit AeroSystems. The issue, acknowledged publicly on Feb. 23, was found as part of Boeing’s work to extend airworthiness limitations on 787 forward pressure bulkheads, the manufacturer confirmed. Boeing shared its findings with the FAA, which determined they did not comply with certification requirements.

While forward pressure bulkheads are on the list of 787 components flagged with quality issues that led to a 14-month pause in deliveries (AW&ST Aug. 29-Sept. 11, 2022, p. 29), the erroneous certification data is not linked to inspection and verification work on the updated designs. Rather, it was part of the aircraft’s original certification package.

Boeing assigned a conservative four-year limit to the redesigned bulkheads installed on all 787s delivered since the August 2022 restart. The process, similar to what happens with an initial certification, includes follow-up analysis that usually extends initial limitations using modeling and other data. This step is where Boeing, using the original data as a baseline, found the error.

“We have completed the necessary analysis that confirms the airplane continues to meet all relevant requirements and does not require production or fleet action,” Boeing said.

Deliveries of newly FAA-approved 787s resumed March 15, Boeing confirmed.

Boeing is targeting 70-80 787 deliveries this year; it has handed over five to date.

Boeing customers took 28 total aircraft last month, including 25 737s. One was a P-8 for New Zealand, and 24 were 737 MAXs. The 24 737 MAX handovers, down from 35 in January, align with Boeing’s public projections that have deliveries starting slow before ramping up in the second half of the year for a total of 400-450.

“Maybe that’s a February phenomenon, but we will have a lower February in this quarter,” Boeing Chief Financial Officer Brian West said at a mid-February TD Cowen investor event. “It will be low 20s, but we’re going to be on track with what we expect for the first quarter. And then those deliveries will continue to accelerate through the course of the year to end up in that 400-450 range.”

Hitting the bottom end of the delivery range will require an average of 34 aircraft per month through year-end. Boeing’s general guidance has monthly figures in the low 30s through the middle of the year before increasing to the high 30s after June.

“We believe Boeing still anticipates producing the MAX at 31 per month through much of 2023 with a rate [increase] up to about [38 per month in the fourth quarter of 2023],” RBC Capital Markets analyst Ken Herbert wrote in an investor note. “However, we continue to expect supply chain headwinds for production, which could hinder the company’s ability to move up in rate in late 2023 or into 2024.”

Among the February deliveries were seven airframes from Boeing’s stored inventory that rolled out before December 2020, during the 737 MAX’s nearly two-year grounding and delivery pause following two fatal accidents. The company began 2023 with 250 737 MAXs in its inventory, including about 120 built before December 2020, data from consultancy Aero Analysis Partners show.

Among the 250 MAX aircraft in Boeing’s inventory at the beginning of the year, about 30 are 737-7s and 737-10s and will not be delivered until the variants are certified. Another 138 are aircraft destined for Chinese customers. Boeing has not restarted 737 MAX deliveries to China since the March 2019 delivery pause.

Boeing’s three other commercial deliveries were one 787-10, one 777F and the last 747-8 produced, a freighter for Atlas Air.

While fewer 737 deliveries were anticipated, zero deals for 767s and a pause in delivery of 787s were not.

The 767 issue stems from a surface coating nonconformance on center wing tanks. It has halted all 767 deliveries, including commercial freighters and KC-46 tankers.

“Through Boeing’s standard process, a quality issue was identified on some 767/KC-46 tanker components,” Boeing said. “We are continuing to work through our process with our supplier, regulator and customers to resolve the issue. We will deliver airplanes as we complete rework, and we are not changing our overall delivery plans for the year. Our engineering analysis to date is that the issue is not an immediate safety of flight concern.”

The Air Current first reported the 767 issue.

Boeing also is working through a post-delivery issue that seems to be limited to leased aircraft changing hands. The company confirmed the issue is linked to documenting options on specific aircraft and ensuring they match customer requirements.

While the scope of the problem is unclear, Boeing is adamant that it is not affecting delivery timing, though some operators are seeing delays in receiving aircraft from lessors. An executive at one major lessor with Boeing aircraft on order said the company has not been affected by the issue, which was first reported by Leeham News.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.