Whistleblower: Boeing production a ‘disaster waiting to happen’

Jan 24, 2024, 8:47 PM

Image: The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York St...

The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (File photo: Richard Drew, AP)

(File photo: Richard Drew, AP)

An anonymous whistleblower is putting the blame for a door plug blow-out solely on Boeing, slamming the company’s quality control process, and calling the 737 production system a “rambling, shambling, disaster waiting to happen.”

Much of the focus has been on Boeing subcontractor Spirit AeroSystems after a door plug — that’s used in the place of an optional emergency exit — flew off of an Alaska Airlines flight after take off from Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 5.

Spirit manufactures the fuselage on Boeing 737-9 Max jets.

But the report from the whistleblower claims four bolts which hold the door plug in place, “were not installed when Boeing delivered the airplane.” That person added that “our own records reflect this.” The whistleblower wrote a long comment post off of a story published on aviation online publication Leeham News and Analysis (LNA) and claims to be a current Boeing employee. The original story where the comment appeared, “‘Unplanned’ removal, installation inspection procedure at Boeing” can be viewed here.

More on Boeing: Retired Navy admiral to lead probe after blowout fiasco

Scott Hamilton, an aviation consultant who is the managing editor of LNA, is convinced the author of the post is a person who works at Boeing.

“My sources, including a retired Boeing safety inspector said, yep, this is a Boeing employee,” Hamilton told KIRO Newsradio, explaining that the report was highly detailed and added new information.

A scenario where key bolts were missing also makes sense to pilot and aviation analyst John Nance.

“That has been my suspicion all along,” Nance said. He added the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will make the final determination.

The fuselage panel that came off the jet was removed for repair and then reinstalled improperly by Boeing mechanics on the Renton final assembly line, a different person who is familiar with the details of the work told The Seattle Times in a story published Wednesday morning.

If verified by the NTSB probe, this would leave Boeing primarily at fault for the accident, rather than its supplier Spirit AeroSystems, the outlet added.

‘Very, very stupid’: This goes beyond missing bolts

But the whistleblower indicates this goes far beyond a case of missing bolts.

“It is also very, very stupid and speaks volumes about the quality culture at certain portions of the business.”

Hamilton says complaints by Boeing workers, about quality control, are not new.

“The union — the International Association for Machinists District 751, which does all the assembly (in the) Puget Sound — they’ve been complaining about this sort of thing for years and nobody’s been paying attention.”

Perhaps, as Hamilton implies, Boeing executives may not be paying attention. But Boeing quality control grabbed worldwide attention after the deadly crashes of two Max jets — Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia in March 2019 — that killed a total of 346 people.

Investigators said a Boeing flight control system was partly to blame. The Max was grounded, worldwide, until the company fixed it and the plane was recertified.

More from Heather Bosch: FAA is investigating Boeing, but Cantwell wants answers from FAA

Sacrifice of Boeing quality began decades ago

But the whistleblower, Hamilton and Nance all indicate Boeing began to sacrifice quality long before, when Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas in August 1997.

Nance points the finger specifically at Harry Stonecipher, who served as Boeing President and Chief Operating Officer of Boeing from 1997 to 2001.

Prior to that, Nance said, “Boeing considered itself an engineering company first, and a company ‘second’ in terms of making money and it served them well. It didn’t make as much money – perhaps in some situations as maybe they would have like to at the board level – but it was consistent. That, I think, has been twisted around.”

What lies ahead for Boeing?

“There needs to be a significant shake up. You can’t scrimp on safety,” Hamilton said.

Nance says changes need to go beyond just moving executives at the top.

“I’ve seen situations where it was just too easy to fire the CEO and move on. That doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”

The whistleblower is calling for a culture shift, writing, “My hope is that this is the wake up call that finally forces the board to take decisive action, and remove the executives that are resisting the necessary cultural changes to return to a company that values safety and quality.”

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Whistleblower: Boeing production a ‘disaster waiting to happen’