Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Boeing is poised to resume delivering its 787 Dreamliners this week, ending a five-month halt while the planemaker’s mechanics searched for tiny structural flaws in the carbon-fibre aircraft, said people familiar with the matter.

The initial shipment is expected as soon as Friday, with Boeing likely to hand over two or three of the jets in March, said the people, who asked not to be named as the matter is confidential. The US Federal Aviation Administration said late on Thursday that it cleared two of the four planes on which it had conducted special inspections, and had yet to complete checks of the other two.

The renewed Dreamliner deliveries will ease the uncertainty that had been building around Boeing’s most advanced aircraft. The drought in shipments of the wide-body plane added to the company’s cash pressures, with more than 80 undelivered Dreamliners stacked up around Boeing factories and in a desert storage lot in Victorville, California.

“We continue to expect to resume delivering 787s by the end of March,” Boeing said in an e-mailed statement, without providing specific timing. “However, we will continue to take the time necessary and will adjust any delivery plans as needed. We remain in constant and transparent communication with our customers and regulators.”

Shares of the aircraft manufacturer reversed declines early in the trading session and rose 3.3% to $247.19 at the close in New York, the largest gainer on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The FAA’s action cleared the way for Boeing to deliver two Dreamliners, and signalled that the regulator found that the company’s revised processes for building 787 jets met safety standards.

The agency didn’t address whether it would allow Boeing to begin delivering the remaining Dreamliners that have accumulated during the delivery halt, or whether it will conduct additional inspections on other aircraft. The FAA said it expected to complete inspection of the other two 787s that its engineers are reviewing in the coming days.

“The FAA’s top priority is ensuring the safety of the traveling public,” the regulator said in an e-mailed statement. “Today, the FAA issued a certificate of airworthiness for two of the four Boeing 787s for which the agency retained that authority. The FAA acted after thorough inspections confirmed the aircraft complied with all airworthiness standards.”

Lessor delivery

Air Lease, which had called attention to the “mushrooming” inspections, expects to take delivery of a Dreamliner the week of March 29, Steven Udvar-Hazy, the leasing company’s founder and chair, said Thursday.

United Airlines also is at the front of the line and could receive one or more 787-9 models as soon as Friday once US regulators approve repairs made by Boeing’s mechanics and engineers, two of the people said. United declined to comment.

The Chicago-based airline needs the new long-range 787s to help with the loss of its older Boeing 777-200 fleet, which has been sidelined for engine inspections after a turbofan blew apart in February during a departure from Denver.

Boeing executives had pledged to restart deliveries this quarter as the company recovers from one of the toughest years in its century-long history. After burning through $20bn in 2020, the planemaker’s path to generating cash over the next two years depends on its ability to unwind more than 500 jets — mainly Dreamliners and the 737 Max — that have stacked up.

Aircraft ‘nonconformities’

The tiny wrinkles or “noncomformities” first cropped up as an issue in 2020 when Boeing grounded eight recently delivered Dreamliners for emergency repairs. While reviewing factory data, it discovered computer-generated fillers known as shims didn’t fully close gaps in an inner lining where two carbon-fibre segments joined to form the rear of the 787’s airframe.

Over subsequent months, the tiny dimples were found in the horizontal stabiliser, forward fuselage join and forward cargo door, Douglas Harned, an analyst at Bernstein, wrote in a March 17 report. Boeing also discovered an unrelated issue that required additional testing: a supplier had changed the manufacturing process for the flight-deck windows.

Since Boeing had signalled 787 deliveries would probably restart in March, the main concern now is clearing out its storage lots, Harned said. “We see the important point as being primarily the rate over the course of this year, rather than the timing of the first delivery.”

The FAA told Boeing in a January 11 letter that its inspectors would conduct the final sign-off of four 787s, and potentially more as a “corrective action” to address the production issues. The agency normally deputises Boeing employees to conduct what it calls certificates of airworthiness inspections.

”We do not comment on ongoing certification activities,” the agency said in response to query about the deliveries.

Bloomberg

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