US aviation regulators are investigating manufacturing flaws in Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which have already led to the grounding of eight jets.

The Chicago-based company said it has identified two problems with the plane’s production that, when combined on the same jet, could cause aircraft parts to deform or fail under extreme conditions.

Boeing said that after discovering that eight aircraft already in service had these paired defects, “we immediately contacted the airlines . . . to notify them of the situation, and the aeroplanes have been temporarily removed from service until they can be repaired”.

Deliveries of the 787 will be delayed in the coming months as Boeing performs additional inspections to ensure jets are defect-free.

Neither Boeing nor the US Federal Aviation Administration released details on how many jets might be affected. Airlines began flying the 787 nine years ago.

The FAA said it “continues to engage” with Boeing and that it was “too early to speculate about the nature or extent of any proposed airworthiness directives that might arise from the agency’s investigation”.

Boeing shares were 5 per cent lower on Tuesday at $162.49.

The FAA investigation is the latest blow to Boeing, which was already struggling with the worldwide grounding of the 737 Max following two fatal crashes when the Covid-19 pandemic sent airline passenger numbers plummeting.

Airlines are cutting back their schedules, particularly on the international routes flown by wide-body planes such as the 787, damping the need for new jets. Boeing delivered four 787s in July, compared to 12 a year ago, as customers deferred deliveries.

READ ALSO  Europeans return to workplace but reduce leisure activity

The pandemic has forced Boeing to cut its production rate across almost its entire portfolio, along with 19,000 jobs.

The Dreamliner is produced at plants in Washington state and South Carolina. The labour force in Washington is unionised while the South Carolina workers are not. With the company scheduled to produce six 787s a month, down from 10, Boeing is deciding whether to continue making the jet at both locations.

Workers in South Carolina installed the wrong-sized shims — thin pieces of material used to create a better fit — in joints between fuselage sections on some 787s, Boeing said. Separately, some aircraft do not meet engineering specifications for skin flatness.

Taken together, the flaws “result in a condition that does not meet our design standards”, Boeing said. The company said it was reviewing “the root cause” that led to the below-standard products.

The company also is correcting a third problem with the 787’s horizontal stabilisers, the tail structure that prevents the plane from pitching forward. The horizontal stabilisers are made at a plant in Utah before final assembly in Washington or South Carolina.

Workers clamped together parts of the stabiliser too tightly, which could prematurely age it, Boeing said. The company is correcting the problem on planes that are still in production and analysing whether any jets in service require a fix as well.

“This is not an immediate safety of flight issue as none of the aeroplanes in service are within a window where they could begin to experience this ageing,” Boeing said.

READ ALSO  Roger Farah, the unflashy Tiffany chair digging in against the ‘wolf in cashmere’

Without the Max crashes, investors probably would not worry about this FAA investigation, Bank of America Global Research analyst Ron Epstein said. But the investigation, combined with those crashes and other earlier problems, will raise questions about manufacturing quality.

Via Financial Times