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With Boeing under the microscope, past Dreamliner problems come to the forefront

Air Canada's first 787 (copy) (copy)

A fuel leak on the first 787 Dreamliner delivered to Air Canada (above) was among the safety problems federal regulators uncovered as part of a 2015 settlement agreement with the aerospace giant. Provided/Boeing Co.

Scrutiny of Boeing Co.'s production practices has spurred renewed interest in a 2015 settlement deal between the aerospace giant and regulators that pointed to safety problems within the company's 787 Dreamliner program.

The agreement settled a pair of pending Federal Aviation Administration enforcement cases and 11 other safety matters the FAA had been looking into, including falsified records at Boeing's Dreamliner plant in Everett, Wash., that led to a fuel leak on an Air Canada 787-8 jet.

Boeing also builds the wide-body Dreamliners at its North Charleston campus.

The Seattle Times was the first to report on safety problems outlined in the agreement in 2017. The Washington Post this week recounted many of those incidents in a review of Boeing's ongoing safety lapses prior to a pair of deadly 737 Max crashes in recent months.

In the Air Canada case, ground crews for the carrier discovered a puddle of fuel that had leaked from an engine pylon after landing in January 2015. The leaking fuel posed a fire hazard because internal parts on an aircraft's engine can reach 700 degrees.

The FAA investigation showed Boeing workers in Everett had discovered the leak months earlier, and a mechanic and inspector signed documents claiming the problem had been fixed. But the repairs were never made, according to regulators.

Boeing said it reported the falsified documentation to the FAA after Air Canada notified the company about the leak.

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"Boeing then conducted a follow-up audit both internally and with operators, and concluded that this was an isolated event," the company said in a statement. "Immediate corrective action was initiated for both the Boeing mechanic and the Boeing inspector involved."

An Air Canada spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The carrier, which has 37 Dreamliners in its fleet, has said it did not experience the same problem on any of its other 787s. 

While much of the recent scrutiny of Boeing's Dreamliner program has focused on the North Charleston campus, the 2015 settlement agreement points to problems on the Everett production line as well.

For example, an FAA audit found nuts were being installed incorrectly — some backwards — and without a locking safety wire, according to The Seattle Times. That led to fuel leaks on a handful of other Dreamliners that were in service with airlines.

Boeing says those problems have been addressed.

In addition to a $12 million fine, Boeing agreed as part of the 2015 settlement to improve its internal auditing program, enhance management oversight and accountability and meet progressively more stringent performance metrics, among other things.

Boeing's single-aisle 737 Max planes were grounded worldwide in March after accidents involving Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines killed all 346 passengers and crew. While investigations are underway, most reports point to flaws in the design of an automated anti-stall system that takes over a plane’s horizontal stabilizer. The planes are expected to stay grounded until late this year.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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