Boeing and Airbus bought plane sections with falsely certified metal

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Boeing and Airbus have included parts in their jets made with titanium whose certification documentation was counterfeit, the two companies acknowledged Friday.

Both manufacturers said the planes in service containing the parts were safe.

The companies bought fuselages and wings from Spirit AeroSystems, the Kansas supplier that has struggled with quality issues over the past year. The metal originated in China, where the documentation reportedly was falsified, before working its way through the global supply chain to be used in parts installed in jets made by the duelling plane makers.

The news, reported earlier by The New York Times, is another setback for an industry with a years-long backlog of orders and customers eager for new planes. Titanium is used to make critical components for aircraft, including landing gears and fasteners for the pylons that join an engine to a wing. The NYT said the transactions may have occurred as far back as 2019.

Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems have been scrutinised in recent months by regulators, following a door panel blowout during a commercial flight in January. US Federal Aviation Administration administrator Mike Whitaker told a US Senate subcommittee on Thursday that the agency’s previous approach to regulating Boeing was “too hands-off”. An audit of the two companies found examples of them failing to meet requirements for manufacturing and quality control.

US Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, on Friday said he would launch a congressional oversight inquiry into both Boeing and the aviation regulator over the blowout, noting in a letter that “while Boeing’s actions had deadly consequences, the FAA’s oversight failures allowed for it to occur”.

Boeing said it would remove the titanium parts from planes that are awaiting delivery but it has not paused deliveries, and the in-service fleet can continue flying.

Boeing declined to say which aircraft the parts were used on. Spirit makes the fuselage for the 737 Max and the nose and leading edge of the wing for the 787. The US group builds parts for several Airbus jets, including the wings and engine pylons for the A220 jet. 

Airbus said it is “aware” of the situation. The European plane maker said “numerous tests” had been performed on parts coming from the same source of supply, which showed the “A220’s airworthiness remains intact”. The company said it was working with its supplier. 

The FAA said it is now investigating the scope and impact of the problem, which Boeing voluntarily reported.

The metal tested shows “the correct titanium alloy was used”, Boeing said, even though the documentation was falsified.

All the suspect parts have since been removed from Spirit’s production, said spokesperson Joe Buccino, and “more than 1,000 tests have been completed to confirm the mechanical and metallurgical properties of the affected material” to ensure the planes already delivered with these parts are safe to fly. 

Boeing said the titanium in question comes from “a limited set of suppliers”. The bulk of the titanium the company purchases is unaffected by the counterfeit documentation.

This story has been amended to correct which products Boeing and Airbus bought from Spirit AeroSystems.

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