While Boeing continues to attempt to crank-up its 787 Dreamliner global supply chain to produce long overdue aircraft deliveries to customers, two separate new incidents have come to light, potentially adding more obstacles to overcome.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Association (FAA) has issued a mandatory airworthiness directive requiring all existing 787 airline operators to inspect fuel couplings in the engine pylons after multiple incidents of fuel leaks.  Premier launch 787 customers All Nippon Airways (APA), who currently operates 16 of the aircraft, as well as Japan Airlines have each encountered and repaired fuel leaks on their aircraft.  These loose couplings are believed to be caused by a manufacturing assembly flaw. The directive calls for operators to inspect for correctly installed lockwires on the engine’s fuel line couplings within seven days of the directive. Operators have within 21 days to verify that all fuel couplings are assembled correctly. Boeing must separately inspect all existing aircraft in final assembly, as well as review certain assembly fuel coupling assembly procedures to mitigate the existing problem.

In a separate incident this week, a 13 day old 787 Dreamliner recently delivered to United Airlines, flying from Houston to Newark, was forced to make an emergency landing in New Orleans because of a mechanical malfunction.   An entry published in today’s Wall Street Journal indicates that United has determined that the cause of that malfunction was a failure of one of the aircraft’s six on-board electrical generators. Fortunately, there were no signs of an electrical fire with this incident.  Both Boeing and United teams continue to inspect that aircraft.

The 787 is a marvel of technical innovation, including a totally new design, use of lighter composite materials and more complex electronics.  That stated, any new aircraft is bound to have shake-out problems, and aircraft certification programs call for extensive ground and in-flight testing. That proved to be the case with the November 2010 incident involving an in-flight electrical failure which caused concern and a subsequent added delay to first customer ship. The Dreamliner had its final certification and acceptance testing during the period of June and July, 2011. However, since certification and first customer ship in September 2011, the 787 has encountered two separate engine incidents in July, and now, these current two other incidents involving two separate aircraft components.  Earlier reports also indicated that Boeing had condensed previous standard testing processes in order to accelerate the overall output of finished aircraft.

The 787 supply chain obviously remains under the looking glass, especially since these continued incidents point to issues occurring at different tiers or stages of the supply chain.

With two concurrent final assembly operations to coordinate, a supply chain financially and operationally stressed, and a 2013 cloud of global economic uncertainty impacting existing 787 bound customers, much work obviously remains.

Bob Ferrari