In the latest blow to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to publish an Airworthiness Directive (AD) that would mandate checks on over 200 Boeing 787 aircraft.
Following “reports of multiple incidents”, the FAA will mandate “repetitive inspections” of the forward and aft cargo areas of the 787 belly, according to a yet-to-be-published AD, first seen by Cirium. Operators will have to check for disengaged or torn decompression panels. If any damage would be found by airlines, the panels will need to be replaced or reinstalled.
According to the administration, if the decompression panels are disengaged or torn, they pose a safety risk. If a fire breaks out in either of the cargo areas, a leak in the bilge could result in insufficient Halon, which is a gas used to extinguish fires, concertation to prevent a significant fire outbreak.
Inspections of the decompression panels will cost operators $56,610 per inspection and would need to be done by the end of March 2021. Inspections would need to be repeated within 120 days.
The latest AD would add to significant issues the Boeing 787 program has faced throughout 2020.
The FAA began investigating Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina, site after the manufacturer grounded eight 787s in August 2020. The problem was related to the aft section of the fuselage, as shims that fill gaps between separate sections of the fuselage upon assembly and the smoothness area of the inner fuselage skin created a risk of a structural failure mid-flight. While the issues separately posed little risk, the combination of the two could result in a catastrophic event.
Another problem was related to the aircraft’s horizontal stabilizer, which was discovered in February 2020 and made public in September 2020. Parts of the stabilizer were clamped together with greater force than was intended, resulting in premature wear. A few weeks later, Boeing issued a special bulleting warning, as the company discovered a potential problem with the Autopilot Flight Director System (AFDS).
The production issues forced Boeing to make checks throughout its manufacturing sites and the aircraft’s supply chain, which resulted in the company delivering only four aircraft of the type in Q4 2020. The company estimated that it had around 80 Boeing 787 aircraft in its inventory, as of January 27, 2021.
“Based on what we know today, we anticipate that we will unwind the vast majority of these aircraft during 2021 and are working with our customers to facilitate this,” commented Greg Smith, the Chief Financial Officer at Boeing, during the company’s 2020 results earnings call.