Ten years ago, Boeing delivered its first 787 “Dreamliner” long-haul jet – after major start-up difficulties and multiple postponements, the US aircraft manufacturer reached a milestone. The model is currently causing problems for the Airbus rival again: Due to technical defects, many 787s have not been available to customers for months. As a result, Boeing even had to cut production in July. However, it is only the latest chapter in a long series of breakdowns.
Problems right from the start
Even before the first “Dreamliner” was ceremoniously handed over to the Japanese airline All Nippon Airways on September 26, 2011, Boeing had a lot of trouble with the series. The first delivery of the bearer of hope, with which the Americans wanted to find their way back to business success after the great industry crisis in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, and keep their up-and-coming rival Airbus at a distance, was delayed for more than three years.
But instead of securing Boeing’s supremacy in the sky and becoming the symbol of a new era of ultra-modern long-haul jets with greater comfort and lower fuel consumption, the “Dreamliner” quickly developed into a billion-dollar breakdown project. Boeing initially outsourced extensive parts of the manufacturing process to suppliers, which turned out to be an expensive mistake. The group later brought some of the work back to itself because the partners were apparently unable to cope with it.
Boeing had to pay dearly for the delays in the schedule – with hundreds of orders for the 787, the waiting airlines had to be compensated for a lot of money. The years of hiccups already scratched the image of the former US flagship company. The relief was correspondingly great when the first machine could finally be handed over. “Now that the aircraft is ready for delivery, the whole team can celebrate,” said Dreamliner program director Scott Fancher in September 2011.
But it should get even bigger. At the beginning of 2013, the supervisory authorities withdrew the Dreamliner from traffic because in two cases the new types of batteries that supplied the on-board systems were stewed. The US aviation authority (FAA) imposed a flight ban on the Boeing 787, which regulators around the world joined. Even then, there were considerable concerns about the FAA’s approval process and the close ties between Boeing and supervisors, which were later to cause a lot of criticism in connection with the debacle surrounding the 737 Max crash plane.
In view of the mishap history, it seems almost logical that the Dreamliner is currently at the top of Boeing’s list of problems again. During the crisis surrounding the bestseller 737 Max – which had to remain on the ground for around 20 months from March 2019 due to two crashes with 346 deaths – the 787 was still an important source of income for Boeing. But since 2020 there has been nothing but trouble here again. After reports of production defects, the FAA identified a number of new problems.
In July, Boeing announced that further inspections and repairs were needed on a number of 787 planes that had not yet been handed over to customers. The company expects to be able to deliver less than half of the 787 machines currently in stock this year. Therefore, the production of the model type will be temporarily throttled. This reported in early September Wall Street Journal citing insiders that the delivery stop is likely to drag on until at least late October because the FAA has not approved Boeing’s plans to remedy the defects.
Grace periods will soon be over
For the US group, the situation is becoming more and more critical. Actually, Boeing had just recovered a little after the double burden of the 737-Max crisis and pandemic. But since many Dreamliners have not been able to be delivered for some time due to various problems, customers are increasingly able to renegotiate purchase agreements, threaten Boeing with cancellations and wrest expensive concessions. Most recently, Boeing had around 100 Dreamliners in stock, the list price per machine is around 250 million dollars.
What is wrong, both Boeing and the FAA are keeping a relatively low profile. For over a year there have been reports of inspections by the supervisory authority due to possible production breakdowns and control deficits. In February, the FAA ordered inspections of around 222 Dreamliners because there was a risk of damage to so-called decompression panels for separating the passenger area. According to the authority, the defect could have fatal consequences, for example if air freight catches fire. In the meantime, however, there should also be conflicts in the inspection process for the clearance of the jets by the FAA.