Virgin Australia’s order of 737 MAX aircraft is under a cloud, with an issue found in aft fuselage sections from troubled Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems.
Aviation Australia understands the airline currently has no information on how the problem will affect its order of 25 MAX 10s and eight smaller MAX 8s, which would bring its total domestic fleet to 92 — well above the 58 it had planned to operate coming out of administration.
Boeing late last week told the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that Spirit had advised it of a “nonstandard manufacturing process” used for fittings in the 737 MAX’s aft fuselage that could result in noncompliance with required specifications. This affects a “significant number” of undelivered planes, it said in a statement.
“We expect lower near-term 737 Max deliveries while this required work is completed. We regret the impact that this issue will have on affected customers and are in contact with them concerning their delivery schedule,” the statement read.
“We will provide additional information in the days and weeks ahead as we better understand the delivery impacts.”
Boeing told the FAA that the issue does not compromise flight safety, and the agency released a separate statement confirming that existing aircraft are still cleared to fly.
“Based on the facts and data Boeing presented, the FAA validated the company’s assessment that there is no immediate safety issue,” it said.
“The FAA is in close communication with Boeing and will continue to evaluate all new affected airplanes prior to delivery.”
This is the second issue with Spirit AeroSystems components affecting Boeing deliveries in the last few months, with the FAA in early March lifting a ban on deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner resulting from a data analysis error relating to the aircraft’s forward pressure bulkhead.
The 737 MAX itself — which also comprises the entire Bonza fleet — had previously been grounded for more than 18 months from March 2019 to December 2020 following two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed 346 people.
The US Department of Justice subsequently fined Boeing US$2.5 billion for deceiving FAA safety officials who initially cleared it to fly.
In a scathing statement, a series of senior figures accused Boeing of “fraudulent and deceptive conduct”, “concealing material information”, and “engaging in an effort to cover up their deception”.
Boeing chief executive David Calhoun said then the huge penalty “appropriately acknowledges how we fell short of our values and expectations”.
Qantas in late 2021 opted not to place an order for the 737 MAX, instead going with rival Airbus for new A220 and A320 aircraft.