The nose of the 500th 787 Dreamliner at the assembly plant in Everett on Wednesday morning on September 21, 2016. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Boeing discloses new quality problem on 787 Dreamliner jets

The issue affects jets built in South Carolina that have yet to be delivered, the company said in a statement.

By Lori Aratani / The Washington Post

Boeing announced Thursday it will conduct additional inspections of some of its 787 wide-body jets after disclosing that fasteners on the fuselages of the planes may have been incorrectly installed, the latest in a string of quality issues that have plagued the aerospace giant.

The issue affects jets that have yet to be delivered, the company said in a statement. It said 787 Dreamliners currently in service are safe to operate, though it plans to determine whether airlines with planes in operation need to take any action.

The company made its disclosure as Michael Whitaker, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, was preparing for a Friday visit to the South Carolina factory where the 787 is built, part of the agency’s stepped-up oversight of Boeing.

While a door panel blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight earlier this year brought scrutiny of Boeing’s manufacturing practices, it also renewed long-standing questions about the FAA’s oversight of the company.

Whitaker has been praised for his quick decision to ground 737 Max 9 aircraft in the wake of the Jan. 5 blowout until inspections could be completed. But on Thursday, in an appearance before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, he was grilled about the FAA’s response to the crisis.

“We are counting on you to be that agent of change. We know that this begins by taking a hard look at the agency itself,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chair of the committee, noting that the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm Whitaker to lead the FAA in October.

Added Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, the committee’s ranking Republican: “The FAA must guarantee that not only are they certifying an aircraft is safely designed but that the manufacturer is building them to that safe design. Clearly, that was not happening at Boeing.”

Whitaker told the panel the door panel blowout made it clear the agency’s oversight of Boeing had been “too hands-off” and that a more aggressive approach was needed. The agency has put more inspectors on Boeing factory floors where they can interact with front-line employees, he said.

Thursday’s hearing took place just weeks after Boeing submitted a plan to the FAA to address shortcomings identified by the agency. Boeing chief executive David Calhoun is expected to testify next week before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

In a statement Thursday, Boeing said the latest issue involving its 787 jets, first reported by Reuters, was identified as part of the company’s quality management system. The company found some fasteners were torqued incorrectly, and they are being studied to determine whether they will require repairs.

“We are taking the time necessary to ensure all airplanes meet our delivery standards before delivery,” Boeing said. “We are working closely with our customers and the FAA and keeping them updated.”

This is only the latest issue to affect production of the 787 jetliner. Last month, the FAA said it had launched an investigation into whether Boeing employees skipped key inspection of certain 787 aircraft and falsified reports to say the work was completed.

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