Boeing Halts 737 Max Test Due to Engine Flaw

Boeing Halts 737 Max Flights as Engine Issue Spoils Jet’s Debut



Boeing Co. temporarily suspended flights of its new 737 Max jetliner because of a potential manufacturing flaw in the engines, marring the commercial debut for the fastest-selling plane in company history.

The jet maker and its engine supplier, a venture of General Electric Co. and Safran SA, are rushing to understand the problem ahead of the aircraft’s first delivery, which remains scheduled for later this month. Boeing said a possible quality defect in the Leap engine’s low-pressure turbine discs had come to light recently during supplier inspections and hadn’t affected flight testing of the upgraded 737.

The shares stabilized Thursday as analysts suggested the disruption won’t last long. Boeing is counting on a smooth start for the 737 Max as it seeks to boost cash flow with accelerated production of the newest version of a plane that is the company’s largest source of profit. Suppliers are under strain as the Chicago-based manufacturer and European rival Airbus SE unveil new aircraft models while ramping up single-aisle production to record levels.

“If this indeed turns out to be a manufacturing process or quality control issue, it’s just a bump in the road,” Ron Epstein, an analyst at Bank of America Corp., said in a report. “At this point, we have no reason to suspect that it is anything more serious than this; however, we caution that these issues can sometimes be more complex than they first appear.”

Boeing rose 0.3 percent to $183.171 at 10:48 a.m. in New York. GE dipped less than 1 percent to $28.56.

Teething issues are bound to emerge in the highly complex new turbofan engines powering the Boeing and Airbus single-aisle jets, Epstein said. The Leap-1B engine pushes the limits of turbine design with a smaller fan diameter since it was designed for the 737 Max, which rides lower to the ground than the A320neo. As a result, the CFM engine generates some of the highest turbine temperatures in the industry outside of military applications. “So there is little room for error,” he said.

First Delivery
The Max has accumulated 3,714 orders before its commercial debut but is still racing to catch up to Airbus’s A320neo. The first of the new 737 models is slated to be handed over next week to Malindo Air, followed later in the month with a delivery to Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA. Other major customers due to take the Max this year include Southwest Airlines Co. and American Airlines Group Inc.

The decision to halt flights was made “out of an abundance of caution,” Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said Wednesday, adding that the plane completed flight testing months ahead of schedule.  “The step is consistent with our priority focus on safety.”

Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for GE Aviation, said about 30 CFM International engines will be inspected at sites in the U.S. and France. In the meantime, production will continue using discs from other CFM suppliers, he said. The issue doesn’t affect other versions of the Leap engine used on planes from Airbus and Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd., Kennedy said.

Both CFM and rival Pratt & Whitney, which together make the bulk of engines for narrow-body commercial jets, have encountered faults as they’ve churned out turbines over the past year.

Pratt Delays
Airbus has fallen behind in deliveries of its A320neo family of aircraft as Pratt’s cutting-edge geared turbofan engine encounters durability issues and production snarls. Executives of Air Lease Corp., a Los Angeles-based aircraft lessor, warned during an earnings call last week that a CFM-powered model was also encountering delays.

CFM faces a steep production increase for the Leap, as Boeing and Airbus plot to increase narrow-body production by 33 percent through the decade’s end. After delivering 77 of the engines last year, 28 fewer than it had predicted, CFM has targeted producing about 500 Leap this year and about 2,000 in 2020.

The Leap 1-B engines, created for Boeing’s Max, were repeatedly inspected during more than 2,000 hours in the air for the Max 8’s flight test program, which concluded during the first quarter, Alder said. The engine endured another 3,000 simulated flight cycles during testing that ended last month so the plane would be certified for long ocean flights.

Airline Impact
The impact on airline customers eager to show off the brand-new planes wasn’t immediately apparent. Boeing has several unaffected engines available that it could swap to avoid lengthy delays on initial deliveries, Alder said. Malindo, an affiliate of Indonesian carrier PT Lion Mentari Airlines, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

For Norwegian, also awaiting its first Max this month, the inspections “will result in a few days’ delay” but aren’t expected to disrupt the carrier’s new trans-Atlantic flights starting next month, spokesman Anders Lindstrom said in an email. The carrier had expected to take five more of the single-aisle planes in June.

Southwest and American said they hadn’t been notified of any changes to their Max delivery schedules. On-time delivery of Southwest’s Max planes is critical because the Dallas-based airline is counting on them to fill a gap when it retires its oldest aircraft on Oct. 1.



Source: Boeing Halts 737 Max Test Due to Engine Flaw | Manufacturing Quality

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