“Unplanned” removal, installation inspection procedure at Boeing

By the Leeham News Team

Jan. 15, 2024, © Leeham News: It’s not supposed to happen.

The door plug on the Boeing 737-9 MAX isn’t supposed to separate from the airplane in flight, as it did on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on Jan. 5 this year.

There is conflicting reporting whether the emergency exit or door plug is opened on the Boeing 737 final assembly line for access to the interior. Examining Google images, two photos show the exit or plug closed while over-wing exits are open. Credit: Unknown.

The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is in its infancy. Early evidence suggests four bolts intended to prevent the door plug from shifting in its attachment brackets either failed or weren’t installed. Inspections after the 1282 incident by Alaska, and United Airlines found loose bolts in other MAX 9s. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Jan. 6 grounded the 171 MAX 9s operated by the two carriers until inspections and repairs, if needed, are completed.

This photo of a Boeing 737-900ER for Turkish Airlines shows a door plug closed on the 737 final assembly line. The over-wing exits are open. Credit: Unknown.

Boeing CEO David Calhoun, while telling CNBC that he wasn’t pointing fingers, did precisely that. He said Spirit AeroSystems had a “quality escape,” adding that Boeing failed to catch it, so it also had a quality escape.

How could this happen? The NTSB probe will presumably figure this out. Spirit ships the 737-9 fuselages with the door plug installed. Conflicting reporting suggests that Spirit is supposed to install the door plugs in the final, secure condition; or these are shipped with the plugs in place but in a condition that Boeing would later secure. The NTSB will sort this out, too.

Regardless, Boeing should have inspected the door plugs and assured these are in final condition prior to delivery. The Seattle Times reported on Jan. 14 that contrary to other reports, Boeing doesn’t open or remove the door plug when the MAX 9 is in final assembly. A retired Boeing safety employee with assembly line experience says Spirit ships the door plugs in a temporary condition, expecting that Boeing may remove them during final assembly.

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FAA boosts oversight of Boeing; undelivered MAX 9s have discrepancies

By the Leeham News Team

Jan. 12, 2024, © Leeham News: The Federal Aviation Administration today announced it is boosting its oversight of Boeing production and manufacturing on the 737-9 MAX.

The FAA’s been overseeing Boeing deliveries of the MAX since recertifying the airplane in November 2020. Following the discovery of production issues of the 787 in October 2020 that resulted in Boeing suspending delivery for more than a year, the FAA also assumed certification by an FAA official.

With today’s announcement, the FAA said it will add “new and significant actions to immediately increase oversight” to audit the MAX 9 production line and its suppliers to “evaluate Boeng’s compliance with its approved quality procedures.

The FAA also will increase monitoring of MAX 9 in-service events and assess the safety risks of delegated authority. The full announcement is below.

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737 incidents prompt new scrutiny at Boeing

 By the Leeham News Team

 Analysis

 Jan. 8, 2024, © Leeham News: Following in the footsteps of the 737 rudder bolt omission inspection just last month, we have the Jan. 5 incident on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 in which an emergency exit plug door blew off the airplane at 16,500 ft.  This may indicate another quality assurance failure at either Boeing or Spirit AeroSystems.

The door plug design used on the Boeing 737-900/900ER, 737-8-200 and 737-9. Credit: Boeing, via the National Transportation Safety Board.

We don’t know if this is a Boeing problem, a Spirit problem, a bolt manufacturer problem, or an Alaska Airlines problem. It’s way too soon in the investigation to draw conclusions. Certainly, because it’s Boeing’s name on the airplane, and especially given the MAX history, people are jumping to the conclusion that Boeing screwed up again. While this may ultimately prove true, LNA is not at all prepared to conclude today that this is the case.

Illustration of the bolt locations securing the Boeing 737-9 door plug to the airframe. Credit: Capt. Chris Brady.

The flight left Portland (OR) for Ontario (CA) about 4:30pm. Six minutes later, as the two-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 9 was climbing through 16,500 ft to cruising altitude, the inactive emergency exit plug door, aft of the wing on the left side of the plane, separated from the aircraft. Decompression followed, with an emergency descent and landing back at Portland. There were no serious injuries.

The area where the door plug and cell phones fell from Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. Credit: Google Earth, NTSB.

Boeing and Spirit have been plagued in recent years by quality “escapes.” Inspection and quality assurance may be the culprit again. The official investigation will take some time. The rapid issuance of the Emergency AD Note mandating only a one time inspection is a logical response to something having been misassembled, with the fix being to verify it is assembled per drawing. Whether this is another piece of poor workmanship not being caught by inspection remains to be seen.

The following analysis was compiled by LNA’s news team.

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Spirit Focused on Delivering On Time and At Quality

By Dan Catchpole

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Nov. 6, 2023, © Leeham News: Spirit Aerosystems’ new CEO Pat Shanahan’s focus right now is “to restore confidence in the company” with its biggest customers—Airbus and Boeing.

During a Nov. 1st conference call discussing the company’s third quarter earnings, Shanahan said,  “I recognize we have disappointed our stakeholders.”

Shanahan just came on as chief executive in October to help turn around Spirit, which has been flailing, along with much of the aerospace supply chain. Boeing and Airbus will be watching Shanahan’s progress. He gained a reputation as Mr. Fix-It during his time at Boeing.

Summary
  • Market responds favorably to latest earnings report and management’s promises.
  • Shanahan says Spirit is on track to deliver more than 50 737 MAX airframes in 2025.
  • Goal is zero-quality issues.

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Boeing Cuts 737 Delivery Estimate in Blood Red 3Q Earnings Report

By Dan Catchpole

October 25, 2023, © Leeham News: Boeing slashed its 737 MAX delivery forecast for the year to between 375 and 400 in its third quarter earnings report on Wednesday. The company attributed the cut to rework and inspections to fix manufacturing problems in aft pressure bulkhead sections produced by beleaguered supplier Spirit AeroSystems. It maintained its 787 delivery forecast of 70 to 80 airplanes by year’s end.

Boeing recorded a loss of $1.6bn in the third quarter, its worst quarterly performance this year. The company continues to struggle with supply chain and production problems. Boeing’s defense division spilled the most red ink on the ledger book due to problems on its Air Force One (VC-25B) program and losses on a satellite contract. BDS recorded a $924mn loss. Boeing executives acknowledged that the company’s recovery is taking longer than they had expected, but they remained upbeat about stabilizing the aerospace giant in the next couple years.

Summary:
  • Boeing reports worst quarterly earnings since 3Q in 2022, when it recorded $3.3bn in losses.
  • Boeing Defense, Space and Security recorded a $428mn loss on its Air Force One (VC-25B) program and a $315 million loss on a satellite contract.
  • The company continues to struggle with supply chain problems and slower-than-expected rework on the 737 program.
  • Boeing CEO says losses are a sign of the company’s commitment to a transparent culture and uncovering, rather than ignoring, problems.

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Q3 Could Be Boeing’s Reddest Earnings Report This Year

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By Dan Catchpole

A Boeing T-7A Red Hawk aircraft sits on the tarmac after delivery to the U.S. Air Force.

The U.S. Air Force accepted the first of five T-7A Red Hawk test aircraft from Boeing on Sep. 14th. (Image courtesy of USAF and Boeing Co.)

October 23, 2023, © Leeham News: Wall Street analysts expect Boeing to post its biggest quarterly loss of the year when it reports its third quarter earnings on Wednesday. The company’s commercial and defense divisions continue to struggle with rework, slow work, supply chain snafus, and other challenges for both its commercial and defense and space divisions. Those divisions’ losses likely will be offset somewhat by Boeing Global Services, which continues to be a bright spot on the company’s otherwise blood-red ledger book.

Analysts aren’t expecting any big surprises, just more of the same financial dark clouds that have been camped out over Boeing in recent years. They expect Boeing to announce a loss due to well-known challenges, especially with its 737 and 787 programs, as well as ongoing struggles within Boeing Defense, Space and Security. In recent research notes, investment analysts have forecast BDS posting a loss between $475m and $500m for the quarter.

Across Boeing’s divisions, Wall Street expects the company to book more than $1bn in losses. Projections vary by as much as $1bn. At the low end, TD Cowen expects a loss of just under $900m. At the other end, Bernstein projects about $1.85bn in losses. In either case, that would be the biggest loss since 2022’s third quarter, when Boeing posted a $3.3bn loss.

Summary:
  • BCA continues to struggle with the 737 and 787 programs. It just announced a price revision deal on those programs with airframe supplier Spirit AeroSystems.
  • BDS is expected to post more charges due to ongoing struggles with new and mature programs.

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Analysis: With Gentile out at Spirit, here’s what Shanahan’s hiring likely means

By Bryan Corliss

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Oct. 2, 2023, © Leeham News – Tom Gentile is out as CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, the victim of a number of serious production missteps and a failure to lead the Tier 1 supplier into a stronger position following the Covid-19 pandemic and the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX. 

Interim Spirit AeroSystems CEO Pat Shanahan.

The new interim CEO is Pat Shanahan, a long-time Boeing and Pentagon executive who has been serving on Spirit’s board since 2021. 

Spirit said its board is conducting a search for a new chief executive.

  • Markets respond to news
  • Shanahan faces huge challenges as CEO
  • Shanahan’s resume fits Spirit’s need 
  • Our takeaway: What this means for Spirit’s future

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Pontifications: “We’re sick and tired of new technologies:” Avolon CEO

By Scott Hamilton

Editor’s Note: As Airbus and Boeing consider new airplanes, their current generation aircraft are plagued with technical issues. The engines on the A320neo and 737 MAX families continue to have problems years after entry into service. The Boeing 787, which had ground-breaking technology when it was designed, has production issues. Flight testing early on revealed technical problems with the engine on the 777X, prompting the president of Emirates Airline to publicly suggest he won’t accept delivery until the engines are fully “mature.”

Aviation Week’s Check 6 podcast last week examined Boeing’s path toward a new airplane. Boeing CEO David Calhoun insists on waiting for new technology. But “new technology,” while in theory is a great idea, the phrase also scares people. LNA reported on this in March 2020. We’re reposting this article from then.


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Introduction

By Scott Hamilton

March 16, 2020, © Leeham News: “I can tell you from our perspective, we’re kind of sick and tired of new, new technology. It’s not proven to be the home run.”

This blunt assessment comes from the chief executive officer of the big aircraft lessor, Avolon.

Domhnal Slattery

Domhnal Slattery, the CEO, was giving his critique of whether Boeing should launch a new airplane once the 737 MAX crisis is over. (Update: Since this interview, Slattery retired from Avolon.)

Boeing was on a path to decide whether to launch the New Midmarket Airplane when the MAX was grounded one year ago this month.

Airbus was waiting for Boeing to move before deciding how to respond.

Summary
  • Airbus and Boeing should “stick to their knitting.”
  • Focus on incremental improvements for now.
  • 2030s to 2050s will be the next big advance in technologies.

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Analysis: Jefferies presentations show industry hasn’t stabilized post-Covid

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By Bryan Corliss

Sept. 11, 2023, © Leeham News: Negative cash flow in the quarters ahead. Ongoing issues with the supply chain. OEMs struggling to meet high airline demand as Tier 1s wrestle with quality issues. New technology wearing out faster than the old systems it replaced.

The No. 1 takeaway from last week’s Jefferies Financial Group Industrials Conference presentations is that the aerospace industry is still a few years away from being in a stable state capable of meeting the demands of customers and shareholders alike.

“We know our customers really do want to make more,” said Howmet CEO John Plant, whose company casts fasteners and engine components for Tier 1s and OEMs. “The question becomes when can we achieve these improved rates?”

Plant went on to say that he believes both Airbus and Boeing will hit their goals for increased widebody production; Airbus at 9/mo  on the A350, Boeing at 10/mo for the 787. 

The question, he said, is whether the OEMs will hit those rates in 2025 or 2026.

Executives from Boeing, Spirit AeroSystems and Howmet all presented at the conference, and all agreed that there’s reason to be optimistic, given the strong demand from airlines for more planes. 

The issue, as Plant put it, is the industry’s ability to meet that demand. “We haven’t seen the real benefits of increased aerospace production.”

  • Companies discuss latest 737 quality issue
  • Spirit tries to get on track as refinance deadline looms
  • Gentile: Supply chain needs new contract terms
  • Boeing CFO projects losses for next quarter
  • Howmet talks about engine challenges
  • Takeaway: Fundamental demand is strong, but…

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Calhoun’s moonshot for the Next Boeing Airplane

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By Scott Hamilton

David Calhoun

Sept. 4, 2023, © Leeham News: As people try to figure out when Boeing is going to launch a new airplane, confusion continues over semantics and doubts continue over willingness.

The semantics revolves around the words “launch” and “introduce.”

Brian West, the CFO of The Boeing Co., appears at an investors conference Sept. 7 hosted by Jefferies, an investment bank. The event will be webcast; a link is available on the Boeing website. Perhaps West can clarify the timeline, but here is what’s happened recently.

David Calhoun, the CEO of The Boeing Co., said during Boeing’s investors’ day event on Nov. 2 last year that Boeing will “introduce” a new airplane by the middle of the next decade. LNA at that time asked corporate communications if by “introduce” Calhoun meant entry-into-service or a program launch. Corp Com replied that Calhoun meant EIS.

Last month, at another investors conference, a lower level Boeing official said Boeing would “launch” its next airplane by the middle of the next decade. If this is what the official meant, “launching” the next airplane by mid-next decade would represent a major shift. LNA figured the official was mixing words and asked Corp Com for clarity. A spokesman replied, go with Calhoun’s November statement. So, for the moment, let’s take this at face value.

Then there are the skeptics.

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