Fears have grown that the grounded 737 MAX could be out of action for even longer after Boeing admitted it has now discovered dangerous fuel tank debris in 70 per cent of the jets it has checked.
Last week, an internal memo leaked to Reuters revealed the planemaker had found the material, thought to include rags, tools and metal shavings left behind by maintenance workers, in “several” aircraft.
However, industry officials now estimate the debris was found in around 35 of the 50 jets checked so far.
In total, roughly 400 MAX planes are awaiting delivery while grounded in its Everett factory, north of Seattle.
A spokesman said, “Boeing is taking it very, very seriously.”
The story first emerged last week in a leaked internal memo in which Boeing vice president Mark Jenks told employees the discovery was “absolutely unacceptable”.
Boeing is currently carrying out work and checks on 737 MAX jetliners that have been built but not delivered due to the worldwide ban imposed last year following two crashes that killed 346 people.
Jenks, listed as the company’s vice president and general manager of the 737 program, was forthright in his criticism in the memo, reportedly telling staff “one escape is too many”.
He added, “With your help and focus, we will eliminate FOD [foreign object debris] from our production system.”
Boeing confirmed the message’s authenticity but maintained the developments won’t add further delays to the jets’ return to service.
The planemaker already has a backlog of 737 MAXs that are unable to be delivered because more than 40 countries have banned the aircraft.
Nations and territories imposing a ban include China, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, India, Oman, the European Union, Singapore and Canada.
Yesterday, Australian Aviation reported how Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce hinted he could use his airline’s status as the world’s safest to negotiate a cut-price deal to buy Boeing’s troubled 737 MAX when it returns to service.
Talking to The Sydney Morning Herald, he said, “If you look at it from an opportunity point of view, given the aircraft is going to be very safe, what will Boeing do to get the safest airline in the world to buy the aircraft?
“Qantas itself will put the [MAX] aircraft through its own lens to make sure we’re comfortable with it.”