Boeing on Wednesday delivered its first 787 Dreamliner since May 2021, ending a blockage that has starved the manufacturer of cash, added $5.5 billion in costs and led to a buildup of more than 120 jets in storage.
The delivery pipeline was formally cleared Monday when the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it was satisfied with the changes Boeing had made to its production system to ensure that the 787s meet all certification standards.
The plane was delivered at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina, plant. In an Instagram post, American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said the jet is the first of nine the airline expects to take this year.
In a message to employees, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal said the resumption of deliveries “is a beginning.”
“I look forward to many more as we continue to focus on safety, quality and stability,” Deal wrote.
Deliveries were initially halted in fall 2020 when quality defects were discovered: very small gaps at the joins in the carbon composite fuselages. Eight airplanes in service with airlines were grounded, and intensive inspections were initiated.
A trickle of deliveries resumed in the spring of last year but then were halted as further quality flaws showed up all over the structure of the airplanes.
Since then, Boeing has worked to identify and fix the problems, conducting substantial rework on hundreds of airplanes. Separately, it has had to convince the FAA that it could guarantee every 787 would meet its strict specifications.
“We’ll continue to take the time needed to ensure each one meets our highest quality standards,” Deal told employees in his message Wednesday. “Every action and decision influences our customers’ trust in Boeing — we build trust one airplane at a time.”
Rather than rely on that commitment from Boeing, in the immediate future, the FAA will check the quality of Boeing’s workmanship — one airplane at a time.
The safety agency will inspect each individual aircraft before an airworthiness certificate is issued and it is cleared for delivery.
Boeing said Wednesday that none of the manufacturing flaws are an immediate safety of flight concern for the 787s currently flying with airlines around the world.
Those planes will be inspected at their next routine maintenance checks and rework will be done then if required.
In October 2020, shortly after the first manufacturing flaws were found, Boeing announced that it would end production of the 787 on the original assembly line in Everett and consolidate that work in South Carolina.
The company said Wednesday that new 787s now rolling off the South Carolina assembly line do not require postproduction join verification and rework, as the manufacturing issues have been fixed in the factory.
That work has to be completed only on the stored airplanes that have piled up both in North Charleston and in Everett.
Even though no new 787s have been built in Everett since March last year, the big 787 production bay there remains full of airplanes as mechanics perform the required rework on airplanes built earlier.
The 787 problems have come at enormous cost to Boeing. For months, with deliveries impossible, Boeing has reduced production to a very low level of about one jet per month.
Cash payments from airlines stopped as they awaited long-delayed delivery of their airplanes. Although most airlines have hung on to their orders, some orders were canceled.
Late last year, Boeing took a $3.5 billion accounting write-off for the 787 losses and estimated that a further $2 billion in abnormal production costs would be accrued as the rework is performed and production slowly resumes.
The losses might have been even greater if not for the suppressed demand for long-haul airplanes during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the flow of delivered 787s will be slow for some time, the unblocking of the manufacturing pipeline at least offers Boeing employees hope that production can begin to return to a significant level.
Boeing has said its goal, “over time,” is to gradually ramp up to rolling out five airplanes per month.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.