Boeing 787 Delivery Halt Spoils American Airlines’ Summer Plans

 - December 10, 2021, 7:46 AM
An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 takes off from Los Angeles International Airport in May 2019. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY) by Colin Brown Photography)

American Airlines has pledged to minimize disruptions to its international schedule caused by Boeing’s inability to deliver at least thirteen 787s due to ongoing problems involving gaps between the model’s fuselage sections. Nevertheless, in a memo to employees on Thursday, AA chief revenue officer Vasu Raja confirmed that the airline has decided to slash service to Edinburgh, Scotland; Shannon, Ireland; and Hong Kong and cancel plans to reinstate summer service to Dubrovnik and Prague. It also will “significantly” cut frequencies to Asia-Pacific cities throughout its system such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Sydney while delaying launch to new markets such as Seattle to Bangalore.

“Without these widebodies, we simply won’t be able to fly as much internationally as we had planned next summer or as we did in summer 2019,” said Raja in the memo.

Boeing halted Dreamliner shipments late last year and eventually managed to deliver two by the end of the first quarter of this year. It delivered another 12 through late May when it again had to suspend shipments due to an FAA request for further documentation related to the quality problems.

In September of last year, Boeing found that mechanics clamped together certain components in the horizontal stabilizer with greater force than required by engineering specifications, resulting in possible improper gap verification or shimming as workers assembled the component. That issue further slowed deliveries as the company performed special inspections to address imperfections in fuselage skins and shimming problems within some of the airplanes’ aft fuselages first discovered in 2019.

More recently, Boeing revealed in July that it found further problems involving the forward pressure bulkhead. During the inspections, engineers found small gaps between two sections of the bulkhead and reported the problem to the FAA. Then, this past October, Boeing found that a subsupplier used faulty titanium in parts supplied by Leonardo. Boeing said the problem did not present a safety-of-flight issue, but it did complicate its efforts to return the 787 to service.

“We deeply regret the impact to our customers as we work through the process to resume deliveries of new 787s," said Boeing in a statement. "Our team is continuing comprehensive inspections and rework, as needed, on undelivered airplanes, while holding transparent discussions with the FAA, our suppliers, and customers. We respect the role of our regulator and their rigorous reviews of our processes. We will take the time needed to ensure conformance to our exacting specifications. While this has near-term impacts, we are confident this is the right approach to drive stability and first-time quality across our operations and position the program for the long term.”

For American Airlines, the delivery delays mean it will no longer use any widebodies in domestic or short-haul international service as it deploys each of its twin-aisle jets in long-haul international markets.  

“Despite this delay, we still have great confidence in the Dreamliner and continue to work with Boeing on when these planes can be ultimately delivered to us,” Raja told employees. “In addition, Boeing has advised us that they will compensate American for their inability to deliver the aircraft.”