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Boeing whistleblower found dead as the airline manufacturer’s issues snowball

Mar 12, 2024, 7:09 AM

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The Boeing office building is shown May 6, 2022 in the Crystal City section of Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A former Boeing employee who blew the whistle on alleged safety problems within the aircraft manufacturer’s plant in South Carolina has been found dead.

John Barnett, 62, died on Saturday from a reported “self-inflicted” wound on March 9, a coroner in South Carolina said on Monday according to BBC News.

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Barnett, an employee for Boeing for 32 years until his retirement in 2017, found workers facing intense pressure from the company were fitting and using sub-standard parts on the production line when he was a quality manager. His complaints were targeted at Boeing’s North Charleston plant.

In a 2019 interview with BBC, he revealed he also uncovered serious problems with the onboard oxygen systems, claiming one in four breathing masks would not work effectively in an emergency.

Overall, Barnett believed when it came to constructing a new aircraft, Boeing would rush the assembly process and compromise safety for speed. Boeing’s tendency to “cut corners,” according to Barnett, was to prevent delays on the production line.

While the company has since denied these accusations and claims, the airplane manufacturer said it is “saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and (its) thoughts are with his family and friends” in a prepared statement.

More whistleblowers against Boeing

After a panel — used in place of an emergency exit — blew out of an Alaska Airlines jet, manufactured by Boeing, following take off from Portland International Airport on Jan. 5, another whistleblower put the blame solely on Boeing. The anonymous whistleblower slammed the company’s quality control process and called the 737 production system a “rambling, shambling, disaster waiting to happen.”

More from the anonymous whistleblower: Boeing production a ‘disaster waiting to happen’

Scott Hamilton, an aviation consultant who is the managing editor of LNA, is convinced the whistleblower 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.

In the whistleblower’s report, it claimed the four bolts which hold the door plug in place, “were not installed when Boeing delivered the airplane.” But the whistleblower also indicated 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,” the whistleblower’s report read.

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

FAA audit finds dozens of issues within Boeing

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted 89 product audits for Boeing, passing just 56 of the audits while failing 33 of them, with a total of 97 instances of alleged noncompliance, according to The New York Times.

Last month, The FAA gave Boeing 90 days to develop a plan for quality-control improvements.

“We are squarely focused on taking significant, demonstrated action with transparency at every turn,” Boeing said in a statement to CNBC.

Alongside investigations from the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board is looking into what caused the 737 Max jet door panel to blow off during the Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines incident, and the Justice Department has reportedly begun a criminal investigation into Boeing.

Additionally, the FAA conducted 13 product audits for Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the fuselage, or body, of the 737 Max. Six of those audits resulted in passing grades, and seven resulted in failing ones, according to The New York Times. The examination found some peculiar troubleshooting decisions from Spirit Aerosystems, including Spirit using a hotel key card to check a door seal.

More on Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems: Boeing says it’s in talks to buy Spirit AeroSystems, key supplier on troubled 737 Max

Another instance, according to The New York Times, found Spirit mechanics applying liquid Dawn soap to a door seal “as lubricant in the fit-up process.”

Issues with uncontrolled spoiler movement

Boeing’s issues continue to mount as The FAA reports of improperly installed spoiler wire bundles were revealed, causing the FAA to publish a new proposed airworthiness directive for Boeing 737 MAX planes.

Spoilers aid the plane in “dumping” lift, helping it descend and slow the airplane down as it prepares to land. When the airplane lands on the runway, the pilot usually brings up the spoilers to kill the lift, keep the plane on the ground, and make the brakes work more efficiently, according to NASA. Issues with spoilers have caused unintended rolls in flight, leading to pilots losing control of the aircraft.

In another investigation into Boeing’s practices, it was uncovered that the wire bundles controlling those spoilers have been installed incorrectly. The bundles were rubbing up against the internal structures inside the wing. The directive the FAA recently published requires that customers check their bundles and make the necessary repairs, if needed.

Contributing: Chris Sullivan, Heather Bosch, KIRO Newsradio

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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Boeing whistleblower found dead as the airline manufacturer’s issues snowball