Commercial aircraft producer Boeing and its aircraft fuselage supplier SpiritAerosystems have indicated this week the discovery of improperly drilled holes related to the aft pressure bulkhead on certain Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. This bulkhead is a structure that seals off the rear of the aircraft’s pressurized cabin.
Boeing reportedly believes the defect is limited to a portion of its bestselling 737 MAX 8 narrow aisle model, but was evaluating if older-model 737 Next Generation aircraft may have also been impacted.
While the discovery is noted as not providing an aircraft safety risk, existing monthly production levels might be at risk until engineers determine which specific aircraft are impacted by this fault discovery, and address a resolution of the problem.
This latest development has caused certain industry equity analysts to raise questions about Boeing’s abilities to meet the top end of its 2023 milestone for delivering 450 completed 737 aircraft this year. The news of the glitch led to a 3.4 percent decline in Boeing shares in after-hours trading which is yet another reinforcement that troubling news related to a specific manufacturer or industry supply networks often leads to investor and key airline customer concerns.
According to reporting from Bloomberg, Boeing indicated in an email: “During factory inspections, we identified fastener holes that did not conform to our specifications in the aft pressure bulkhead of certain 737 airplanes.” The report cites a separate report by The Air Current (Paid subscription required) which indicates that the issue was discovered by Boeing within the last month and can possibly involve “hundreds of misaligned and duplicated holes in some aircraft.”
A separate published report by Reuters indicates that not all 737 fuselages will be impacted as Spirit utilizes multiple suppliers for the aft pressure bulkhead.
As our Supply Chain Matters readership is aware, commercial aircraft supply networks continue to be challenged by either component shortages, labor shortages and unrest, along with supplier quality or equipment performance issues.
Aircraft engine supplier Pratt & Whitney and Airbus recently indicated that upwards of 1,200 in-service geared-turbo fan engines utilized on Airbus A320 family single-aisle aircraft will have to be inspected after the discovery of evidence of contamination in some of the metal used in the production of certain engine parts. Reportedly, the metal contamination can lead to cracks within engine parts and the issue requires that engines be internally inspected to assess if repairs are required, and to what extent. According to business and industry media reports, the engine recall will affect upwards of 1,200 engines produced between 2015 and 2021. Likewise, monthly production and delivery levels of the market popular A320 neo aircraft may be impacted in the near term or longer term. That is because of the need by Pratt to supplement needed spares of completed engines to operating airlines to keep their aircraft fleets supporting route schedules, along with the time required by Pratt’s suppliers to produce corrected engine components. That issue is still being assessed.
In May and June, SpiritAerosystems, which was spun off from Boeing in 2005, was involved in tense labor contract renewal talks with upwards of 6,000 workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). A tentative contract agreement was initially rejected by union workers, resulting in a temporary shutdown of production operations. A subsequent round of negotiations led to added wage and benefit concessions and a ratified contract. The development reportedly represented the first new labor contract that workers at Spirit have had in over a 13 year period of explosive industry growth.
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