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Boeing has found foreign object debris (FOD) in the fuel tanks of some 737 Max aircraft it is currently keeping in storage, the latest issue for the troubled Max program.
The discovery was first reported by Leeham News, which reproduced a message sent to employees by Mark Jenks, VP and general manager of the 737 program. “FOD is absolutely unacceptable. One escape is one too many. With your help and focus, we will eliminate FOD from our production system,” the message reads.
It goes on to state that Boeing has already held a series of stand-down meetings at its Renton, Wash., facility, to share a new process for stopping FOD. This process includes updated instructions and required checklists for teammates working in the fuel cell areas, and additional verification measures during the tank closure process.
“During these challenging times, our customers and the flying public are counting on us to do our best work each and every day. That’s why we’re taking action,” Jenks emphasized in the message.
The Boeing 737 Max 8 has been grounded by regulators since March 2019, following Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents that resulted in the deaths of all 346 people aboard two separate Max aircraft. An extension of the 737’s existing speed trim system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — introduced to improve aircraft handling characteristics at elevated angles of attack — has been implicated in both crashes.
The process of returning the aircraft to service has taken longer than initially expected, and Boeing halted production of the aircraft in December 2019. The company’s latest estimate is that the Max will return to the air in mid-2020.
After the discovery of debris in the fuel tanks of the parked Max aircraft, Boeing stressed to reporters that this development would not impact the company’s proposed timeline for returning the 737 Max to service. It is currently unclear how many aircraft have been affected by the FOD.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told the BBC that it would be “monitoring the plane maker’s response to the issue.”
“The FAA is aware that Boeing is conducting a voluntary inspection of undelivered aircraft for foreign object debris as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to ensure manufacturing quality,” the FAA said. “The agency increased its surveillance based on initial inspection reports and will take further action based on the findings.”