How will the Spirit Aerosystems Manufacturing Error Impact Boeing 737 MAX Deliveries?
Boeing expects its delivery rate to drop as it resolves the issue, which is not linked to flight safety.
Earlier this week, we reported that a supplier manufacturing issue threatens the production of Boeing’s popular narrowbody aircraft. The manufacturer alerted customers that a quality issue involving two fittings by Spirit AeroSystems will require remedial modification.
Spirit notified Boeing that a “non-standard manufacturing process” was used during the installation of two fittings in the aft fuselage section of select models in the 737 MAX family of airplanes, including the MAX 7, MAX 8, MAX 8200, and the P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft based on the 737NG.
What caused the problem?
The issue involves the installation of two fittings that join the aft fuselage to the vertical tail. The objects were not attached correctly to the fuselage’s structure before it was sent to Boeing, creating the potential for a “non-conformance to required specifications.”
Different aircraft models, including the Boeing 737 MAX 9, used fittings from other suppliers and were correctly installed per regulations. Boeing confirmed the issue does not affect in-service aircraft:
This is not an immediate safety of flight issue and the in-service fleet can continue operating safely. However, the issue will likely affect a significant number of undelivered 737 MAX airplanes, both in production and in storage.
The manufacturer has racked up a significant number of Boeing 737 MAX orders this year and has been delivering parked aircraft at a rapid rate.
What is the solution?
Boeing confirms it notified the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the issue and is working to inspect and address the fuselages as needed. A spokesperson from the FAA confirmed to Simple Flying that there is no immediate safety issue. The FAA remains in close communication with Boeing regarding the subject and will follow further development and will continue to evaluate all affected airplanes before delivery.
Boeing is now working to conduct inspections and replace the non-conforming fittings where necessary. When reached for comment by Simple Flying, a spokesperson for Spirit AeroSystems outlined the company’s plan to resolve the issue:
“Spirit has notified our customer, Boeing, that we have identified a quality issue on the aft fuselage section of certain models of the 737 fuselage that Spirit builds. This is not an immediate safety of flight issue. We have processes in place to address these of types of production issues upon identification, which we are following.
“Spirit is working to develop an inspection and repair for the affected fuselages. We continue to coordinate closely with our customer to resolve this matter and minimize impacts while maintaining our focus on safety.”
How will this affect deliveries?
This year has been particularly good for Boeing in terms of aircraft deliveries. The US manufacturer delivered 130 aircraft in the first three months of 2023, edging out Airbus’ 127. Boeing’s delivered 64 commercial aircraft in March alone, marking its second-highest delivery month in four years.
The 737 MAX was by far the most-delivered plane, with 111 aircraft going out to customers, representing 85% of Boeing’s total deliveries for the quarter. Many of those deliveries came from parked aircraft, as Boeing’s current production rates for the 737 stand at around 30 aircraft per month.
Boeing reportedly intends to return production of its 737 MAX jet to its 2019 rate of 52 a month by January 2025. Boeing plans to raise output from its current monthly total of 31 to 38 aircraft in June. When reached for comment by Simple Flying, a representative for Boeing confirmed the company expects the issue to cause delays and has notified its customers:
We expect lower near-term 737 MAX deliveries while this required work is completed. We regret the impact that this issue will have on affected customers and are in contact with them concerning their delivery schedule. We will provide additional information in the days and weeks ahead as we better understand the delivery impacts.”
Ryanair, a fan of the “gamechanger” MAX-200, has been expected at least 24 jets over the next three months. During an interview with Simple Flying on March 29th, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary highlighted that he was confident about the long-term delivery schedule. He understands that there are troubles with manufacturing supply chains all across the industry.
“All the indications are coming out of Wichita are that there will more there’ll be much fewer delays. I think the supply chain challenges are working their way out of the system.
“There’s very little aircraft capacity spare aircraft capacity in the world. Capacity in Europe is still only operating about 90% of its pre-COVID volumes in Europe, and that’s generally been good for demand and pricing throughout the continent. Still, there are individual supply chain challenges, but we understand that Airbus deliveries are running late at the moment, with their issues with the engines.”
O’Leary concluded that both Boeing and Airbus are dealing with significant supply chain challenges. However, he expects the problems to work their way out of the system over the next 12 months. Nonetheless, Ryanair is still assessing the impact of Spirit’s woes. This isn’t the first time that the company has been unimpressed with Boeing’s operations, despite its appreciation for the firm’s aircraft.
Altogether, as demand continues to rise, especially heading into the busy summer, we can expect several operational planning departments to draw up backup plans in case they don’t have as many vessels as they anticipated to cater to their busy schedules.