Understanding Boeing’s 787 door and structural issues

November 24, 2021
Boeing's 787 production line at Everett, near Seattle.

New York-based analyst Bernstein has provided clarity around the 787’s door and fuselage issues in a new report, “Boeing: 787 restop – How serious is the new fuselage problem?”

Bernstein said that “the [new] issues were widely reported, and confirmed by Boeing, that the company is addressing structural nonconformities around three aft fuselage doors in the 787 and it is slowing from an already reduced production rate of 2/month.

“The newly addressed issue had been identified roughly one year ago when 787 fuselages were opened and other nonconformities were found. The company is now going to repair the areas surrounding the aft doors. But, this means again taking out a large section of the interior on airplanes where the other repairs had been completed.”

Bernstein says that the “issue in each case was that the surface of the composite material was specified in certification to be smooth within 5/1000 inches for each of these interfaces.

“But, in many cases, the roughness exceeded the 5/1000 inch tolerance, in some
cases by a negligible amount (e.g. 7/1000) and in others by a more significant amount (e.g. 30/1000). Our understanding is that by now more than half of all of the 100 stored airplanes have been through these inspections and repairs.”

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According to the company says Bernstein, “the aft fuselage door issue was identified as a watch item back when the other fuselage nonconformities were found. But, these aft fuselage door issues were not seen as rising to the level where repairs would be
necessary. That view has changed as the process continues. Boeing has now decided it should address these door surround nonconformities as well.”

It estimates that only 10-20 airplanes have had those inspections and repairs completed and it expects deliveries to restart in the first quarter of next year.

Bernstein says what it finds “most disturbing around this event is the lack of transparency. In October 2020, management said that the 787 problems had been addressed and that a large number of airplanes would be delivered in Q4 (Sept to Dec 21).

“As we found, the problems were much more extensive. The fact that senior management was unaware of the extent of 787 issues at Q3 earnings was a substantial problem for us.”

The forward pressure bulkhead and MPS part issues then appeared as a surprise. The fact that this new aft fuselage door issue is now considered important enough to address when it could have been done earlier in the process with the other fuselage actions, adds to our concern over management visibility into operational performance,” Bernstein warned.

Bernstein notes that “there have long been fundamental cultural issues at Boeing regarding management visibility”……and “when serious operational issues arise, as we see today, it is not easy for senior management to resolve them.”

But in an upbeat note, Bernstein says “the 787 remains a hugely popular airplane among airlines and we expect it will remain so. At the past week’s ISTAT Aircraft
Finance Conference in Austin, we heard lessor customers anxious to get these airplanes approved – even to the point of saying that the FAA has just gone too far in its scrutiny.”

It adds “so, the 787 will be back and we expect few cancellations. Our greatest concern, however, is what this new issue indicates about management’s ability to have needed
visibility well into the organization and the risk that we see more events like this in the future.”