For a company like Boeing with such a long and rich history, an activity as complex as building an aircraft should over the years have become as easy as riding a bicycle.

But with the latest production headache and delivery stoppage for the bulk of the 737 Max line, Boeing – rather than freewheeling serenely into the distance – appears to have jammed a stick into its front wheel.

737 Max assembly

Source: The Seattle Times/Ellen Banner/Pool reports

Latest disruption affects 737 Max assembly at Renton site

It is so far unclear how serious this quality problem is. Boeing stresses that it is not a safety of flight issue and has remained quiet on the number of aircraft affected, save for an admission it will impact around 9,000 seats this summer.

Divide that number by the typical capacity of the Max and you reach a figure of around 45-50 aircraft.

Also, should blame need to be apportioned, the airframer would be able to point to the problem originating at a supplier rather than through any internal failing.

That said, this is not an isolated incident: deliveries of the 787 were halted for over a year due to manufacturing defects with the widebody’s fuselage and then stopped again this year for a separate issue; shipments of the 767 have only just resumed after a three-month pause; and as Flight International has reported, the 737 Max continues its stop-start existence.

Boeing would argue that as none of the issues are related, there can be no systemic problem.

But at what point does that argument cease to sound convincing? The third time? The fourth? The fifth?

Much will depend on the actions of Boeing’s customers. Should they tire of constant delivery delays, then they may be tempted to look elsewhere.

Mind you, given that Airbus can offer little in the way of near-term availability, particularly on the narrowbody side, the US manufacturer may be reasonably insulated from potential customer defections.

Boeing is also aided by the 737 Max and 787 being strongly performing aircraft that airlines are willing to wait for.

However, the impact is not so clear-cut over the longer term. Like it or not, at some point the frequent quality control problems will begin to have a corrosive impact on Boeing’s reputation for engineering excellence.

And reputations are strange things – they take years to build but tarnish much more quickly.

If airlines decide they do not fully trust the company to deliver, will they be so willing to back, or wait for, whatever Boeing’s future aircraft is?

Additionally, with management spending so much of their time playing production system whack-a-mole there is less white-collar capacity to focus on that crucial next programme.

If it is to begin its drive towards the future on a secure footing, Boeing must hope that the recent flurry of stoppages is more a short-term blip than a persistent trend.