Whistleblower: Boeing involved in ‘criminal cover-up’

Apr 17, 2024, 2:52 PM | Updated: 4:27 pm

The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exc...

The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, July 13, 2021. It was reported Boeing's CEO will lose a $3 million bonus (File photo: Richard Drew, AP)

(File photo: Richard Drew, AP)

A Boeing whistleblower claims the company is involved in a “criminal cover-up.”

That was just some of the explosive testimony Wednesday before a US Senate subcommittee investigating Boeing over quality and safety concerns.

Boeing has been under intense scrutiny since a door plug blew out of a 737-MAX-9 shortly after takeoff from Portland International Airport January 5.

The door plug had been removed and reinstalled at the Renton plant. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said four bolts holding the panel in place were missing.

The NTSB says Boeing has yet to provide documents about the repairs.

“Boeing has said there are no records documenting the removal of the Alaska Airline [plane’s] door,” former Boeing engineer Ed Pierson told the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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“I’m not going to sugarcoat this. This is a criminal cover-up,” Pierson said. Records do, in fact, exist. I know this because I’ve personally passed them to the FBI.”

Though the Alaska Airlines flight was able to safely land after the door plug blow out, Pierson blames the incident on the same safety problems that lead to two deadly MAX-8 crashes five years ago.

“I had previously warned the 737 general manager before the MAX crash to shut down the factory. I also warned Boeing’s general counsels, the CEO and the Board of Directors before the second crash to shut it down,” Pierson said.

A combined 346 people died in both crashes.

Eight days after the second crash the plane was grounded world wide until a flight control system – implicated in the crashes – was fixed and the plane earned re-certification.

“The manufacturing conditions that lead to the two 737 MAX disasters also lead to the Alaskan blow-out accident and these conditions continue,” Pierson said.

Pierson, who largely blamed Boeing management and lax government oversight for the safety problems, was not the only whistleblower to testify.

Sam Salehpour testified that he’s a Boeing quality engineer who has worked on Boeing 787 and 777s.

“They are putting out defective airplanes,” he said, saying the company emphasizes speed over safety.

He said he has seen workers forcing parts of the aircraft together in an attempt to close gaps.

“I literally saw people jumping on the pieces of the airplane to get them to align,” he said.

Like Pierson, he testified he was not silent about his concerns.

“I want to make clear that I have raised these issues over three years. I was ignored I was told not to create delays. I was told, frankly, to shut up.”

In fact, he claims, “I received physical threats.”

KIRO Newsradio has reached out to Boeing for comment.

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In a statement to Reuters, Boeing defended the planes’ safety, noting that the global 787 fleet has safely transported more than 850 million passengers, while the 777 has safely flown more than 3.9 billion travelers.

In 2021, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion dollars to settle criminal charges that it defrauded the government when it to earn original certification of the MAX-8.

The New York Times reports that the US Justice Department is now looking into whether the MAX-9 door-plug incident violated that agreement.

Families of people who perished in the MAX-8 crashes are set to meet with the DOJ April 24 to determine whether Boeing is meeting the terms of its agreement.

The US Senate Commerce Committee also met Wednesday to discuss Boeing.

Washington US Senator Maria Cantwell chairs the committee.

She said she expects Boeing to submit a serious plan in response to a deadline from the Federal Aviation Administration.

On February 28, the FAA gave Boeing 90 days to develop that plan.

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell held a hearing with authors of the FAA, Organization Designation Authorization Expert Review Panel’s final report on Beoing’s safety culture.

Testifying was Dr. Javier de Luis, Aeronautics and Astronautics Lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who lost his sister in the 2019 Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 737 MAX crash.

Sen. Cantwell expressed her worry that employees are unable to have their concerns heard and acted upon, asking the witnesses, “How do we ensure that those who are speaking up about safety measures get listened to?”

“Well, in a properly functioning SMS and a properly functioning safety culture, those questions wouldn’t be asked,” Dr. Javier de Luis responded. “Because people would be empowered, people would have confidence that they wouldn’t be smacked down if they spoke up.”

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 involved in ‘criminal cover-up’