This Time, It’s Not the 787 Causing Airlines Grief


Boeing’s (NYSE:BA) Dreamliner 787 has been drawing most of the “malfunctioning aircraft” headlines as of late, but the 767 has garnered some attention from the Federal Aviation Administration. The problem is loss of pilot control. In a directive published January 27 in the Monday edition of the Federal Register, the regulatory agency issued a directive warning that problems with the moveable section of the aircraft’s tail can jam, potentially hampering the pilot’s ability to fly the plane.

The directive mandates that the 767 jets undergo an “enhanced inspection” focused horizontal flight-control surfaces called elevators, pieces of equipment that help aircraft climb and descend. In certain cases, the elevator’s fasteners and other devices used to control the aircraft will need to be modified or replaced. According to the FAA, “failures or jams in the elevator system” can result “in a significant pitch upset and possible loss of control.”

Implementing the needed repairs would cost U.S. airline operators approximately $510 per plane for labor and an unknown amount for parts, the FAA calculated. However, the costs of inspections would run much higher, and already some carriers have replaced the parts in question to avoid the onerous federal inspections, as a source familiar with the situation told the Wall Street Journal.

Monday’s FAA order is only one in a long list of 767 inspections. Problems with the 767’s elevators were first identified in the summer of 2000, and the FAA subsequently ordered examinations to identify damaged rivets and mechanical links, called bellcrank assemblies, that move the elevator mechanisms. The regulatory agency determined that failed rivets affecting two or more of the six bellcranks on a 767 could lead to abnormal or even uncommanded movement of the flight-control surfaces. At the time, those checkups were considered to be a temporary response. Still, even though federal regulators found malfunctioning parts and elevators on the 767, those issues have not been responsible for causing any plane accidents, and that fact has made it difficult for the FAA to utilize such a piecemeal solution for such a serious problem plaguing the widely used jet.

The 767 – the first wide-bodied plane to surpass 1,000 deliveries — has been in service for close to three decades and been purchased by more than 70 customers. Since inspections began, the standards have been tightened and Boeing has issued numerous service bulletins regarding the elevator problems. The company eventually found a permanent fix for the malfunctioning part and the FAA is now mandating airlines implement that fix.

The FAA directive, which takes effect March 3, requires U.S. carriers to replace damaged parts within six years, while a similar requirements will be inked by foreign regulators for the hundreds of 767s operated by foreign carriers. So far, the mandate has elicited complaints from the airline industry. United Airlines,  a unit of United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL), has maintained that the service bulletins issued by Boeing making any further service unnecessary.

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