WASHINGTON, April 13 (Reuters) – Boeing ( BA.N ) has halted deliveries of 737 MAXs as it grapples with a new Spirit AeroSystems ( SPR.N ) supplier quality problem that could stretch into 2019, the U.S. planemaker revealed on Thursday.
The issue is likely to affect a “significant” number of undelivered 737 MAX planes in production and in storage, and could result in a decrease in 737 MAX deliveries in the near term, the company said.
Boeing shares fell 5.3% and Spirit AeroSystems shares fell 11.8% in after hours trade following the announcement.
The problem, which affects a part of the 737 MAX family of planes, including the MAX 7, MAX 8 and MAX 8200 planes as well as the P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft based on the 737 NG, is not a safety of the flight issue. and in-service planes can continue to operate, Boeing said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it had “validated” Boeing’s assessment that there were no immediate safety issues “based on the facts and data presented by Boeing” and that the agency would inspect all affected aircraft before delivery.
The problem involved the installation of two fittings connecting the Spirit-made rear fuselage to the vertical tail, which were not properly attached to the fuselage structure before it was shipped to Boeing. Some versions of the aircraft, such as the MAX 9, use fittings from different suppliers and are correctly installed.
Boeing was officially notified of the Spirit problem on Wednesday, however the problem is believed to date back to 2019 and the company is still determining how many aircraft may be affected, Boeing said.
Boeing declined to comment on whether the problem would force it to scale back plans to boost 737 production this year as it seeks to deliver at least 400 MAXs by 2023. The company, which announced deliveries of 111 MAX in the first quarter, aims to increase the monthly MAX production rate from 31 to 38 in June.
“We have notified the FAA of the issue and are working to conduct inspections and replace non-compliant fittings as necessary,” Boeing said. “We regret the impact this issue has had on affected customers and are contacting them regarding their delivery schedule.”
United Airlines (UAL.O) said late Thursday after discussions with Boeing that “at this time we do not expect any significant impact on our capacity plans for this summer or the rest of part of the year.”
Spirit said it is working to develop an inspection and repair program for the affected fuselages. Officials said the FAA is likely to issue an airworthiness directive that would mandate an inspection and adjustment regime.
The FAA has scrutinized Boeing aircraft since two fatal plane crashes in 2018 and 2019. The FAA continues to inspect each 737 MAX and 787 aircraft before an airworthiness certificate is issued and cleared for delivery. The FAA typically assigns airline ticketing authority to the manufacturer.
Reporting by Valerie Insinna Editing by Chris Reese
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