Boeing is confident that it will recover within months from the recent 737 manufacturing process snag affecting aft fuselage sections, having understood the situation and the rework required.
Chief executive Dave Calhoun stressed, during a first-quarter briefing, that the company was “working in a very constructive way” with fuselage supplier Spirit AeroSystems and that, while near-term deliveries and production will be lower, the levels will recover over the coming months.
“Our teams have been working hard over the last week,” he says. “We’re progressing in early inspection of defective airplanes.”
He says the issue is “understood” and isolated to two specific fittings. “And we know what we have to do,” he states.
“Unfortunately the timing of these delivery shortfalls will impact summer capacities for some customers. And we feel terrible about that.”
He describes the manufacturing issue as a “gnarly defect”, of the type which is difficult to prevent.
“Without witnessing first-hand the process in action, you’re not likely to find it from that point forward,” he says.
Calhoun says an employee happened to notice the procedure at the centre of the issue, and queried it. “We’re encouraging everyone to raise their hands,” he adds.
Boeing delivered 113 737s over the first quarter including 53 in March.
Chief financial officer Brian West says the manufacturer has started repairs on several aircraft, and that April deliveries – as well as those for the overall second quarter – will be lower.
But he expects Boeing to maintain a monthly delivery average of 30 aircraft over the first half, rising to 40 aircraft per month for the second half, with a sequential quarterly improvement, enabling the airframer to maintain its forecast of 400-450 737s this year.
“While the high end of the delivery range is pressured, the ultimate performance will be dictated by the pace of fuselage recovery,” says West.
Boeing ended the quarter with some 225 737 Max jets in its inventory, including 138 built for customers in China.
West says about 75% of these 225 aircraft will require fuselage rework, and the number of airframes in inventory is likely to increase in the second quarter.
But he says the company still expects most of these aircraft to be delivered by the end of 2024.
Boeing is supporting Spirit AeroSystems’ recovery effort with manufacturing and engineering resources, and a cash advance, he adds. The company expects to start receiving “clean” fuselages from Spirit “imminently”.
Some 30 of the Max jets in the inventory are Max 7s and 10s. Boeing stresses that the certification timelines on these variants “have not changed”.
West says the repair timeframe for affected aircraft is “days” if the fuselage barrel has not progressed too far through Boeing’s production line, but is longer if the vertical fin has been fitted. But he insists the work, which can be carried out concurrently with other conformance measures, will not “take us off our path” to deal with the 225 inventoried Max aircraft.
Boeing views the rework issue as a near-term hitch, and aims to return to normal production levels within months. The airframer is looking to take monthly 737 output to 38 aircraft this year.
While the airframer plans steadily to increase production rates, Calhoun says: “We’ll prioritise stability and not push the system too fast. We’ll pause when we’re notified of defects.”