By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Federal Aviation Administration’s acting chief will meet with FAA safety inspectors in South Carolina on Thursday before determining whether Boeing can resume deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner after production issues prompted the planemaker to stop deliveries in May 2021, an FAA spokesman said.
The purpose of acting Administrator Billy Nolen’s visit “is to ensure that the FAA is satisfied that Boeing has taken the appropriate steps to improve manufacturing quality and to guarantee the autonomy of workers who ensure regulatory compliance on the company’s assembly lines,” the FAA said.
On Friday, Reuters reported that the FAA had approved Boeing’s inspection and modification plan to resume deliveries of 787 Dreamliners, citing two people briefed on the matter. Deliveries could resume as soon as this month, sources told Reuters. The sources, who asked to remain anonymous because it was not yet public, said the FAA had approved Boeing’s proposal that requires specific inspections to verify the airplane meets requirements and that all work has been completed.
Boeing suspended deliveries of the 787 after the FAA raised concerns about its proposed inspection method. On July 17, Boeing told reporters it was “very close” to restarting 787 deliveries. But before it can resume deliveries, the FAA must still sign off on an airworthiness certification eligibility document.
The FAA noted that even when deliveries resume, it “will inspect each aircraft before issuing an airworthiness certificate. This additional measure of oversight will remain in place until the agency has sufficient data that demonstrates this function can be delegated back to Boeing.”
The FAA said Nolen has asked that Boeing officials on Thursday “provide an update on these programs, as well as the performance of the company’s Safety Management System to identify and mitigate risks throughout the manufacturing process.”
Boeing said Wednesday it “will continue to work transparently with the FAA and our customers towards resuming 787 deliveries.” The planemaker has faced production issues with the 787 for more than two years. In September 2020, the FAA said it was “investigating manufacturing flaws” in some 787 jetliners.
In the aftermath of two fatal 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019, the FAA pledged to more closely scrutinize Boeing and delegate fewer responsibilities to Boeing for aircraft certification.
For the 787 Dreamliner, the FAA had issued two airworthiness directives to address production issues for in-service airplanes and identified a new issue in July 2021.
The planemaker had only resumed deliveries in March 2021 after a five-month hiatus before halting them again. Friday’s approval came after lengthy discussions with the FAA.
A plane built for American Airlines is likely to be the first 787 airplane delivered by Boeing since May 2021, sources said. That could come as soon as next week. American Airlines said last month on an earnings call it expects to receive nine 787s this year, including two in early August.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)