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FAA okays Boeing 787 deliveries after delays over quality, oversight

An employee works on the tail of a Boeing Dreamliner 787 plane on the production line at the company's final assembly facility in North Charleston, S.C. (Travis Dove/Bloomberg)

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that Boeing has made improvements in manufacturing and oversight that will allow the company to resume deliveries of its 787 jets within days.

The FAA finding offers Boeing a path out of an unusual and costly situation after quality problems drew increased federal scrutiny and led the company to stop handing over the planes to customers in May 2021. The plane, which the company calls the Dreamliner, was first flown at the end of 2009. Boeing consolidated final assembly of the plane to its operation in South Carolina last year.

“Boeing has made the necessary changes to ensure that the 787 Dreamliner meets all certification standards,” the FAA said.

Production defects, including tail problems, fuselage-related gaps and other issues, were discovered in recent years, even as the FAA said Boeing employees who are supposed to help the agency oversee the company’s airplane production faced “undue pressure” or interference from some of their managers, according agency documents.

With that history — and the crashes and oversight breakdowns tied to Boeing’s 737 Max jets — the FAA said it “will inspect each [787 Dreamliner] before an airworthiness certificate is issued and cleared for delivery.”

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The precise procedures for getting the planes to customers could prove time-consuming and “labor intensive individually, but at least they’re on the right path and that removes a lot of risk,” said Richard Aboulafia, managing director of consulting firm AeroDynamic Advisory.

Aboulafia said that “the FAA suddenly found itself having to go over well-trod territory,” with the regulator scrutinizing the company’s in-progress production program. Boeing was left with 120 undelivered 787s, presenting a major financial burden, Aboulafia said.

The FAA said in a statement that acting administrator Billy Nolen met with FAA safety inspectors in South Carolina last week “to hear from them on whether they were satisfied with the actions Boeing has taken on the 787 Dreamliner.” The agency said steps had been taken to improve quality at Boeing’s manufacturing facility “and to guarantee the autonomy of workers who ensure regulatory compliance on Boeing’s assembly lines.”

Boeing said in a statement that it has strengthened its safety culture and worked to ensure “manufactured, undelivered planes meet stringent engineering and certification standards, even though this doesn’t have an immediate safety impact.” This year, the company said production improvements are designed to make sure newly built planes "do not require further inspections and rework.”