Boeing boss faces Washington grilling after blow-out

Boeing boss faces Washington grilling after blow-out
Boeing boss Dave CalhounEPA-EFE

The head of Boeing is facing questions from lawmakers in Washington as pressure mounts to explain the mistakes that led to a panel breaking off one of its planes this month.

Boss Dave Calhoun told reporters ahead of the meetings that he was prepared to share “everything I can”.

But he declined to comment on a report that said the part had been improperly installed at one of the firm’s plants.

The anonymous account was posted online and reported by the Seattle Times.

The post, from someone claiming to work at Boeing, described the production of Boeing’s 737 planes as “a rambling, shambling, disaster waiting to happen”.

It said the firm’s records showed that the four bolts meant to hold the door plug in place were not installed when Boeing delivered the 737 Max 9 plane to customer Alaska Airlines.

On 5 Jan, just eight weeks later, the panel blew off shortly after take-off, terrifying passengers, and forcing an emergency return to the Portland, Oregon airport.

No serious injuries were reported but lawsuits have been filed by customers since the incident, accusing the company of negligence.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded 171 other 737 Max 9 planes with similar designs for inspection, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights.

It also recently recommended airlines inspect Boeing’s older 737-900ER models, which use the same door design as Max 9s, though it did not order the planes out of service.

The whistleblower account said Boeing should have halted 737 manufacturing due to an “alarming” number of issues surfacing on the planes during inspections.

In the case of this particular plane, it said Boeing and Spirit staff at a Boeing factory in Washington worked to identify and repair issues ahead of the delivery. The whistleblower says that in the course of that work, the bolts were removed.

A 737 Max plane

Reuters

But according to the post, a final inspection of the door never occurred, which the account blames on a breakdown in communication, in part due to Boeing’s use of two different computer systems to report and sign-off on issues.

Boeing staff were the ones who removed the bolts, according to The Seattle Times, which said the information was from a different anonymous source.

Mr Calhoun referred questions to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident.

Leaders at Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, which have two of the biggest 737 Max 9 fleets, have expressed major frustration with Boeing as the groundings create chaos and added costs.

In an interview with NBC News, Alaska Airlines boss Ben Minicucci said there was “no doubt” that the aeroplane came “off the production line with a faulty door”. He said airline inspections since the incident found “many” loose bolts.

“I’m more than frustrated and disappointed,” he said. “I am angry.”

The comments underscore the difficult task ahead of Boeing to restore confidence among its airline customers and the flying public, which had already been shaken after fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 involving its planes killed 346 people.

The FAA is currently investigating Boeing’s manufacturing process and reviewing its current system for approving planes, which delegates some of those powers to Boeing.

Online travel agent Kayak recently reported that searches from users trying to avoid Boeing 737 Max planes had jumped 15-fold since the accident.

Mr Calhoun told reporters that he recognised the seriousness of the concerns.

“We fly safe planes – we don’t put [aeroplanes] in the air we don’t have 100% confidence in,” he said. “I’m here today in the spirit of transparency.”

Wheel comes off

The incident has drawn attention to other issues cropping up on Boeing planes, including the nose wheel of a different Boeing plane model, a 757, which popped off as it was lining up for takeoff in the US on Saturday.

None of the 184 passengers or six crew members were hurt when the wheel fell off the Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta and rolled down a hill, the FAA said in a notice.

The plane had been scheduled to fly to Bogota in Colombia, and passengers were put on a replacement flight, Delta Air Lines said.

It apologised to customers, and said the “event remains under investigation”.

Boeing, which ended 757 deliveries in 2004, declined to comment on the incident.

Responding to the ongoing situation with Max 9s, Boeing’s Stan Deal, its chief executive of commercial aeroplanes, said the plane maker had “let down our airline customers and are deeply sorry for the significant disruption to them, their employees and their passengers”.

A spokesman said the firm had “announced a series of immediate actions to strengthen quality” including more inspections.

Boeing has also named a retired US Navy admiral, Kirkland H. Donald, to lead a comprehensive quality review of its commercial aeroplane operation.

Source: bbc.co.uk

By David Ryckman