The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reviewing issues regarding the Boeing 787 that may mandate further inspection.

The move comes as the FAA examines issues that led Boeing to the grounding of eight of the type over structural issues.

In August 2020, Boeing instructed several customers to ground eight aircraft over structural issues. The aircraft were found to have issues with the rear fuselage, which were not up to Boeing’s design standards. Boeing alerted the FAA and both have been studying the flaw itself to figure out where things went wrong and how to correct it.

So far, there have been no incidents with the Boeing 787s relating to this specific issue. Hundreds of 787’s are still in safe operation every day on a variety of short- and long-haul routes, except for those eight aircraft. The remaining in-service 787’s meet the limit load capability. Boeing is also reviewing those aircraft in service and the aircraft in production to ensure that any issues are identified before delivery.

The specific issue?

Boeing noted that:

  • The shims installed were not the proper size.
  • Some aircraft also did not have areas that met skin flatness specifications as per the manufacturer’s engineering standards.

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 eight aircraft were pulled from service and are now being repaired.

The FAA could mandate inspections

A memo was issued from the FAA that led to the regulatory agency reviewing issues surrounding non-conforming parts and manufacturing defects of the eight 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 regarding potential defects or problems that need to be addressed on aircraft to ensure safe operations.

COVID-19 could be a blessing in disquise for many operators of the Boeing 787’s. Many aircraft are presently grounded for storage, and thus they could be easier to inspect and repair than if they were in regular service.

Several planes were installed with non-conforming shims.

Depending on how serious the FAA considers the problem may be on other aircraft, it has the ability to mandate inspections a lot quicker. The downside will cause some headaches for an airline re-scheduling their aircraft back into service.

Inspections would require airlines to double-check and ensure that their aircraft do not have the combination of issues in a location where the aircraft 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 FAA said the following:

“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 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.

The FAA is focused on how the breakdowns in manufacturing occurred and why the safeguards in place to prevent such mismatches or non-conforming parts from being installed failed, plus the FAA is also going to focus on how to move forward from here and what can be done to ensure this never happens again.

Boeing is also going back and looking at how many other 787 Dreamliners could be impacted by these non-conforming shims.

Boeing also needs to look into the North Charleston facility where the shims were produced.  

Investigations take time, and the FAA is continuing to review the situation.

For now, however, the 787 continues to fly and is still deemed airworthy and safe by regulatory agencies across the globe.

As many as 900 Dreamliners have already been delivered to customers.