Lufthansa Technik has been performing production inspections on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for about a year and is now monitoring approximately 20 aircraft in Seattle and North Charleston, South Carolina, in the U.S. The company, which was the first allowed to do so, says it has detected defects that, although not safety issues, could have caused unscheduled downtime.
The first inspection was completed in October 2013.
“We have seven 787 customers currently under contract and so far have completed 20 inspection programs; there are about another 20 aircraft to serve this year,” says Marcus Motschenbacher, Lufthansa Technik’s director of network sales and customer service for base maintenance. The offer is modular, with services ranging from a delivery inspection to a series of inspections on the final assembly line. In the latter instance, 787 inspections are roughly spread over the three-month assembly cycle.
Unlike Airbus, Boeing does not allow section inspection. While Airbus makes it possible for inspectors to vet large subassemblies—at various factories—before they are put together, Boeing bars customers from seeing a midfuselage section at its sites, including at an Alenia Aermacchi’s Monteiasi-Grottaglie, Italy, plant.
Inspectors for the 787 have been trained with an emphasis on the aircraft’s innovative design. This includes the extensive use of composite materials, as well as new electronics systems. “Electronics on the 787 are distributed, as opposed to centralized, and follow an all-new architecture,” Motschenbacher notes. The ground return electric network is different from those of other, more conventional aircraft.
Lufthansa Technik’s 12 Dreamliner inspectors are based in Seattle and North Charleston, where the 787’s final assembly lines are located. Some personnel are 787-licensed maintenance engineers, although this credential is not mandatory to conduct inspections. However, training takes weeks and costs up to $30,000 per person, so “you cannot train them all,” Motschenbacher says. Instead, key personnel are trained and then share expertise with the rest of the team.
There are experts in structure, avionics, cabin items, paint and so forth. Usually, they have about 25 years of experience in MRO or airframe manufacturing, so they know the weak points of an aircraft.
“Since beginning our inspections, our team has found production shortfalls that could have caused a delivery delay or significant downtime,” says Motschenbacher. Boeing quality is deemed “quite OK” and no aircraft “will fall from the sky if we don’t inspect the 787s on their production line,” he adds. Nevertheless, the inspections increase reliability and lead to the best possible aircraft condition at delivery, he asserts.
Motschenbacher clarifies that the relationship is only between Lufthansa Technik and Boeing—no partner or supplier is involved. For a given inspection, the Lufthansa team receives an invitation a few days or a few minutes in advance, with a timeframe assigned. For the customer, daily reports are available online.
Lufthansa Technik offers its inspection services to a range of customers—including airlines, banks, lessors and VIPs who might not have the technical skills, manpower or budget to conduct their own, Motschenbacher explains.
The company is holding talks with Airbus about A350 XWB inspection. “We already have A350 customers,” Motschenbacher says.
Lufthansa’s first A350XWB inspection is scheduled to take place late next year.