After production problems that have been plaguing it for nearly two years, Boeing finally delivered a 787 on Wednesday. But will this last?
It really was a long time coming. Officially, this delivery is the first one for a 787 since May 2021. But as we’ve already seen, this is quite misleading. The manufacturer had only delivered a handful of these widebodies between March and May that year. Boeing hadn’t delivered a 787 between September 2020 and March 2021.
So after a barely two-month long delivery window in spring 2021, Boeing would take another 15 months to hand over 787s to customers. The reason for this was a dispute between Boeing and the FAA, regarding the precise method Boeing would use to inspect its 787 inventory. This was no small matter. Boeing currently has approximately 120 787s, that need to go to their customers. And their customers really need them.
Inventory And Pace Of Inspections
Inspecting this Boeing 787 inventory before it gets delivered is quite time-consuming. Again, this problem has to do with the joints between the different carbon-fiber sections of these all-composite aircraft. It affects multiple joints in the jet – which is not what Boeing originally thought in September 2020.
Boeing has since revised its manufacturing methods, to ensure the problem doesn’t reoccur from now on. But this still leaves that inventory of 120 jets. As for the 787 fleet that it has already delivered to operators, Boeing maintains that this is not an immediate safety of flight issue. However, these aircraft will undergo additional inspections, when they come in for major maintenance.
After deliveries stopped the second time, Boeing and the FAA found more flaws in the aircraft’s production. These included issues with the forward pressure bulkhead, fitting issues with door frames, and a problem with some titanium fittings. However, none of these issues are safety-of-flight concerns. And more to the point, they didn’t affect the timing of the 787 that Boeing just delivered.
But the FAA remained unhappy with the details and paperwork of Boeing’s inspection of its 787 inventory, even in May this year. And long before that, these delays began to bite. When Boeing last delivered 787 Dreamliners in 2020, its customers were reluctant to get them. This was at the height of the pandemic – or between lockdowns, depending on where you are. Airlines put their brand-new long-haul aircraft straight into storage.
Boeing 787 – Delivered One, How Quickly Will More Come?
But now we are in 2022. The cancellations and airport chaos that we see often have to do with low numbers of staff. But many airlines retired a lot of aircraft in the last two-and-a-half years. Satisfying this demand, especially for long-haul flights, requires new jets – like these 787s. So now the question is how fast Boeing can deliver them.
The answer is yet to come. Some analysts believe that Boeing will struggle to follow the 787 it just delivered with a steady flow of more. The pace will depend on the speed of its inspections – and to a large extent, the FAA. For the coming months, the agency will make final inspections on 787 deliveries directly. The FAA previously relied on specially-vetted Boeing staff for this work. But this won’t happen until it is happy with Boeing’s production and inspection process.
There is much more to this story, including the consolidation of 787 production in South Carolina. In any case, Boeing has already taken $5.5 billion in charges, because of the 787 program. This is a hefty price, for an aircraft that first flew eleven years ago. American Airlines expects to take delivery of a total of nine 787s this year. Airlines like British Airways and many others also expect to pick up more aircraft. Will Boeing manage to keep up the pace?