Another day, another drama for Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX program. The aircraft manufacturer has found so-called “debris” in fuel tanks of undelivered 737 MAX jets.
The issue was revealed by Scott Hamilton of Leeham News, who obtained a memo sent from Scott Jenks, head of the 737 program, to employees:
During these challenging times, our customers and the flying public are counting on us to do our best work each and every day. That’s why we’re taking action after a range of Foreign Object Debris (FOD) was recently found in the fuel tanks of several 737 MAX airplanes in storage.
FOD is absolutely unacceptable. One escape is one too many. With your help and focus, we will eliminate FOD from our production system.
We’ve already held a series of stand down meetings in Renton with teammates on the factory floor to share a new process for stopping FOD. This process includes:
- Updated instructions and required checklists for teammates working in the fuel cell areas.
- Additional verifications including inspections, audits and checks into our tank closure process to ensure there is zero FOD within the fuel tanks.
- New signage added in these work areas to help remind teammates of the appropriate steps to take.
The success of this initiative is dependent on you. We need our entire team to make this a priority. Thank you for your commitment to put safety, quality and integrity into everything we do.
FOD include tools and rags. This is not a new problem for Boeing. Nor is it related to the problems which led to the 737 MAX grounding. But it is another quality control issue which may affect previously-delivered 737 MAX as well.
Now, each of the 400 undelivered aircraft will be inspected. The process includes draining the fuel and allowing vapors to dissipate before the fuel tank is even opened, a three day process.
If widespread FOD is found, Boeing may order inspections on all 737 MAX. Still, this issue is not likely to delay the re-certification of this plane for commercial air service, a timeline Boeing still has not laid out beyond “soon”.
Boeing’s Poor Quality Control
The FOD issue is not exclusive to the 737 MAX. Boeing has faced similar issues with its KC-46 and 787 programs. As noted by the Seattle Times:
Debris was routinely found dangerously close to wiring beneath cockpits at the assembly plant. Piles of titanium shavings— produced when fasteners were fitted into nuts — accumulated close to electrical equipment underneath the passenger floor. Employees found tubes of sealant and metal nuts inside finished jets. In one instance, a ladder and a string of lights were left inside the tail of a plane.
Boeing has vowed to transform the way it inspects aircraft to reduce or eliminate future instances of FOD.
This is just the latest in a laundry list of setbacks for Boeing. The FOD is not only embarrassing, but potentially dangerous. Let’s see if Boeing can finally transform its culture and stop making these unforced errors.
image: Paul Thompson / Flickr via Creative Commons 2.0