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April 17, 2024
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Boeing says that it has made good progress in implementing numerous initiatives in its own organization to improve the safety culture within the company. This extends beyond the OEM, as Boeing is actively reaching out to and communicating with customers to educate and train them on all safety aspects. For this, Boeing is introducing new AI technology. Boeing’s new safety culture is making progress.

Boeing’s Chief Aerospace Safety Officer, Mike Delaney, shared the updates on Wednesday in his 2023 report. Delaney has been in his job for over a year now, which followed as Boeing took a deep and thorough look inside after the two fatal accidents with the MAX in 2018 and 2019. The accidents exposed not just flaws of the aircraft design, but also a safety culture that had been eroded by indifference, negligence, and disrespect.

The centerpiece of that changing culture is the implementation of a new safety management system (SMS) to assess every aspect of the design and manufacturing process. Boeing introduced SMS in 2019, which collects and monitors data from numerous internal and external data sources like operational data from the global fleet, employee reporting, audit findings, and design and manufacturing data. With the aim to identify and mitigate product safety risks. Last year, Boeing trained more than 130.000 employees on SMS.

In 2022, Boeing further matured the system and introduced a new analytics platform called Boeing Safety Intelligence (BSI). The platform uses artificial intelligence for advanced modeling techniques and machine learning algorithms to deliver real-time insights. It helps to proactively monitor emerging safety trends within the global fleet and across the company’s SMS, with data reviewed during weekly Safety Review meetings. “Through BSI and the development of analytics capabilities, Boeing is moving from reactive to predictive hazard identification and mitigation,” Delaney says in the report.

Sharing the safety culture

Outside the company, the Global Aerospace Safety Initiative is Boeing’s way of sharing the new safety culture with others. A year ago, it was still early days, but Boeing says that it conducted workshops with airline heads of training of more than sixty customers and more than twenty regulators.

These so-called competency-based training and assessment (CBTA) courses for the 737NG, MAX, and 787 were approved by multiple regulatory agencies. Through the Boeing Virtual Procedures Trainer and Maintenance Synthetic Trainer, pilots and mechanics received experiential training and complementary training programs.

Competency-based training and assessment (CBTA) courses were approved for the 737NG, MAX, and 787 (pictured). (Richard Schuurman)

Boeing provided enhanced support to aircrews: “New flight operations representatives act as on-site advisers, consultants and partners to airlines’ flight operations, training and safety programs, providing guidance on how to best safely and effectively operate their Boeing airplanes. These highly experienced professionals with an average of 13.000 to 15.000 hours of airline experience have engaged more than sixty airlines in 2022.

Another initiative on which progress has been made is the strengthening of engineering expertise, with an emphasis on safety.

“These design practices have now been incorporated into Technical Design Reviews to help engineers identify risks and issues earlier in the design process. During these reviews, engineers review engineering work, guided by institutional knowledge such as design practices, lessons learned, and other engineering specifications data, and requirements. The company also is developing Design Records, an internal dashboard powered by a search engine tool that will make engineering data and information easier to find and access,” the report says.

Improving ODA oversight

Following the MAX crashes, various investigations identified that Boeing had misled the FAA with its delegated Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) to certify aircraft. ODA representatives felt interference from the airframer when they raised objections or suggested changes. This has led to a complete review of FAA oversight and ODA procedures, resulting in more independent oversight and an ODA that was extended last year for just three years instead of the usual five years.

 The report says that “Boeing is implementing a portfolio of twenty initiatives intended to increase advocacy and support for ODA representatives. (…) The company also implemented enhanced regulator communication training for about 48.000 employees and widely expanded FAA data sharing and transparency. With direction from and in coordination with the FAA, the company is also working to improve ODA oversight, its administration, and to further improve the unit member appointment process and skills development.”

Many representatives still concerned

Mike Delaney says that while progress has been made last year, implementing the safety culture is “a journey we’ll continue to walk each and every day.”  A May 2022 survey under 1.000 ODA representatives in which 71 percent responded showed that 49.4 percent of them are seeing improvements. But 13.9 percent still perceived interference and 24.1 percent is concerned about retaliation when they report their concerns. A dedicated Ombudsperson should guarantee that ODA representatives can do their job independently and without interference.

As a follow-on step to further improve safety, Boeing has launched the Safety Experience at Boeing initiative. This is a digital learning platform that provides Boeing employees with an engaging and collaborative forum for discovering and sharing product safety information. As reported in January, the FAA established a safety review panel to check if Boeing is really making progress on its safety policy.

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Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.

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