UPDATE: The FAA sent out this response to the audit: "The FAA will conduct a regularly-scheduled audit of the Boeing Commercial Aircraft production system in February. Boeing’s North Charleston, SC facility will be included in the audit. Five FAA inspectors will assess that Boeing’s systems are in compliance with the regulations for the manufacture of airplanes."
UPDATE: Boeing emailed me this response: "This routine audit, conducted about every two years at multiple Boeing locations, is part of Boeing maintaining our Production Certificate 700. It’s not focused solely on Boeing South Carolina."
FAA Audit at Boeing Charleston
Sources revealed that Boeing Charleston will be undergoing an extensive audit, possibly one of the largest in Boeing's history, as the FAA examines Boeing's production practices. Among the items that the FAA will be examining will be tool accountability, lost or missing tools, calibration dates, mismatched tools/tooling kits among others. There will be 5 inspectors who will be at Charleston starting January 27th and remaining there until February 14th. They will be looking over the shoulders of the manufacturing techs (MT) at the Charleston plant and will be quizzing them about the processes that they are using and how those specs and engineering were authorized. It was revealed by the Wall Street Journal that Boeing is adding 300 contract workers and may increase that number to as many as 1,000.
Sources described the production of the mid body fuselage section built in building 88-20 as "a complete disaster, a cluster fuck." This is a very worrying development to Charleston workers as some of them feel that the FAA may shut them down because of issues the audit may uncover. 88-20 is clearly the weakest link in Boeing 787 production chain as it is this unit that produces the mid bodies for all 787s whether they are built in Everett or Charleston. Some MTs from the final assembly line in 88-30 have been sent to 88-20 to help reduce the strain that this area is facing. Boeing has promised its MTs an 8% bonus if they can get the 16,000 jobs that they are behind on down to 8,000 by the end of February. If the issues in 88-20 worsen it could lead to slow down of 787 production and deliveries at least for this year. This is not the first time that the South Carolina plant had undergone an audit. In June 2008 the FAA audited the 88-20 plant which was then under the 50/50 joint venture between Boeing and Alenia Aeronautica of Italy known as Global Aeronautica. The audit uncovered lax manufacturing standards and forced a 24 hour shut down of the plant to go over proper procedures regarding FoD.
I have reached out the FAA and Boeing Charleston for comment. The FAA will inquire and get back to me. I will update this post if I hear back from either party.
Meanwhile 787s continue to be built...
The FAA audit notwithstanding, Boeing continues to build 787s at both plants at a rate of 10/month. This month Everett will have started assembly on 9 Dreamliners and Charleston would have started final assembly on 2 aircraft. Boeing has rolled out quite a few unpainted 787s over the last few weeks onto the flightline. Usually they go straight to paint after being rolled out. I'm not sure why they changed this though Boeing test flight could be doing some ground testing before the aircraft is painted. Whether the 10/month rate can be sustained due to the production issues in Charleston, particularly the mid body assembly in 88-20 remains unclear though this is why Boeing has bought in the contract workers.
Boeing did rollout the first 787 to be produced at the 10/month rate though they said that the aircraft is L/N 155 (ZA564) which is a 787 for ILFC being leased to Aeromexico. Back in November when Boeing announced that they had started production on the first 787 at 10/month (through Randy Tinseth's Blog) they did not identified the aircraft that had the distinction of being built at that rate. I was able to identify the aircraft as L/N 152 (ZA188) for Japan Airlines which sources told me was loaded into the first position and started final assembly on Nov. 14, 2013. When asked about the apparent discrepancy, a Boeing spokesperson insisted that the aircraft that was loaded on Nov. 14th was L/N 155 not L/N 152. I stand by my belief that the aircraft that kicked of the 10/month production rate is L/N 152.
First deliveries in 2014
Boeing has already delivered 1 787 this month to ANA and is in the process of delivering United's 9th 787 on Jan. 27th. I was expecting quite a few more by now to be handed over. ZA469 (LN 129, A7-BCH) for Qatar Airways spent a long time being painted (and repainted), first in Ft. Worth, then at Boeing's paint facility in Portland, OR. I assumed that it was now ready to finish production flight tests and be handed over to the customer but it has been hauled back inside 88-30 in Charleston for unknown reasons. There are several more Qatar Airways 787s waiting to fly and to be painted but are sitting on the flightline at Boeing Charleston. It appears that Boeing will not deliver any 787s to Qatar Airways this month. They are trying to get a couple more to ANA as well as to the first BBJ customer - the Saudi Finance Ministry. I also believe Boeing can deliver one to ILFC which will leased as a business jet to Sky Blue Holdings. Boeing may be able to deliver one (maybe 2) to Air India as ZA230 (LN 25, VT-ANA) has been conduction flights as of late. ZA231 (LN 26, VT-ANB) conducted flight tests last month but none this month. I'm not sure if ZA231 is ready to be delivered. A very real reason for the slower deliveries is the weather in Everett probably played havoc with the flight tests as Everett suffered from several days of foggy conditions. There were no test flights for quite a few days as the fog lingered around Paine Field.
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