Boeing 787 Deliveries Delayed Amid FAA Questions About Inspection Plans

787-10 Boeing at Charleston facility
Credit: Sean Broderick / AWST

Boeing 787 deliveries have been on hold since early May as the company works to satisfy U.S. FAA concerns about how production issues are being addressed, the company confirmed May 28. 

“We are working to provide the FAA with additional information concerning the analysis and documentation associated with the verification work on undelivered 787s,” Boeing said in a statement. The issue will delay “near-term” deliveries, Boeing added. 

Boeing has delivered one 787 in May—an Uzbekistan Airways 787-8 that left Everett on May 4, Aviation Week Intelligence Network Fleet and Data Services shows. The company has delivered just 12 787s so far in 2021—all in a six-week period from late March to early May.  

The activity came following a five-month delivery pause as Boeing stepped up post-production inspections primarily focused on joins, or areas where large subassemblies such as fuselage sections are mated. Imperfections in manufacturing work by Boeing and suppliers is creating situations where the joins are not smooth. While the specific issue does not pose an immediate safety risk, it may affect Boeing’s service life assumptions. Boeing is repairing at least some of the aircraft in its possession and is still evaluating ramifications for the in-service fleet

Boeing is conducting post-production inspection and modification work at both Everett, Washington and Charleston, South Carolina to tackle the fuselage join issue. Each airframe undergoes a physical inspection. Joins with gaps that are too large—which Boeing defines as more than 0.005 in.—must be filled with shims before airworthiness certificates can be issued. 

The Wall Street Journal was first to report the reason behind the current delivery pause. Boeing is proposing revisions that use data analysis to reduce the number and depth of inspections, the report said. The FAA wants more information on Boeing’s proposed plan before it agrees to the changes. 

The company declines to say how many 787s have needed to be reworked or if any have been cleared without needing immediate modifications. Boeing built up an inventory of more than 80 last year as deliveries slowed and then ultimately stopped as the extent of production issues were better understood. 

Boeing’s proposed plan may be key for reaching its 787 delivery target this year. After delivering just 53 in 2020 due to a combination of factors, including the production issues and challenges linked to the coronavirus pandemic, its target for 2021 is higher. While it does not provide model-specific delivery targets, Boeing has said it plans to deliver most of the backlogged aircraft in 2021 and continues to produce new aircraft at a 5 per month rate. 

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.