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July 22, 2024
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Boeing has long had a reputation in the industry for arrogance, even with the press. Ask a difficult question, and a reporter could expect an obfuscated answer, served with an attitude that seems to ask, “Who are you to question us?” Write a negative story, and you will quickly hear complaints from their PR team and likely not show up on their next invitation list. But that has long been a hallmark of Boeing’s culture.

A report in the Seattle Times indicates that Boeing has not turned over important documents to National Transportation Safety Board investigators reviewing the door plug blowout on an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 earlier this year. “Boeing has not provided us with the documents and information that we have requested numerous times over the past few months, specifically with respect to opening, closing, and removal of the door and the team that does that work at the Renton facility,” said NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy today in testimony before the Commerce Committee of the US Senate.

Because of Boeing’s actions, investigators do not know who at Boeing removed and reinstalled the door plug that later blew out. The NTSB investigation has led to the conclusion that Boeing employees removed critical bolts that hold the plug in place but failed to reinstall them before the aircraft was delivered. Homendy said Boeing has not provided the names of the 25 employees who deal with door plugs and has told the NTSB that it cannot find documentation about the removal and reinstallation of the door plug on that aircraft. Convenient, given the $1 billion lawsuit filed by passengers earlier this week.

But it gets potentially much worse. Boeing admitted that they couldn’t find documentation for that repair.  Oops!  Since every action taken to repair an aircraft needs to be documented, including the mechanic who did it and the inspector who signed off on it, Boeing is not following FAA procedures.

Not following FAA rules and procedures, however, is a violation of their Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the Department of Justice, which agreed not to criminally charge Boeing after the MAX crashes if it towed the line and followed FAA rules and procedures. In the wake of the most recent kerfuffle, the DOJ has announced that it is opening an investigation. Get ready, Boeing, because it may have just hit the fan.

Since we already know from leaked emails in prior investigations of the MAX crashes that Boeing employees purposely hid MCAS from regulators, there is a pretty good chance that some former Boeing executives and the company could face massive liability for the crashes, including additional fines and sanctions, and potentially jail time for some involved in lying to the FAA.

The Hits Keep on Coming

Today, the FAA issued another proposed airworthiness directive for the Boeing 737 MAX regarding the chafing of wire bundles that could send erroneous messages to the spoilers. The impact could result in loss of control of the airplane.  Boeing has downplayed the potential of severe consequences in its reaction to the AD, citing the possibility of an occurrence as negligible.  We’ve seen similar ADs before that required re-wiring of airplanes, a problematic and potentially expensive maintenance process if the inspections show wear.

The smug attitude at Boeing reflects a broken culture. Boeing’s culture was a major factor in the 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people after the company purposely hid facts from the FAA during the certification process. The attitude that “we know better than you” is apparently rearing its ugly head again in the investigation of the Alaska Airlines incident earlier this year.

Chairwoman Homendy also raised concerns with Spirit AeroSystems, as they provided the board with three individuals for interviews who did not actually work for the company but for subcontractors. Of course, Spirit’s current CEO, Pat Shanahan, was a long-time Boeing employee and is well-steeped in the Boeing culture.

This comes after a scathing FAA report on quality at both Boeing and its major subcontractor Spirit AeroSystems, which Boeing spun off in 2005 and is in talks to reacquire. That report indicates that employees fear retaliation if they report potential safety issues and may let problems slip by in order to keep their jobs.

The Boeing culture changed markedly after the McDonnell-Douglas acquisition in 1997, after which several of their executives assumed leadership roles and intentionally changed the culture from product-driven to financially driven, focused on share price and shareholder value. Unfortunately, the fundamental traits of that culture that led to the failure of Douglas in the commercial market after it was acquired by McDonnell are currently leading to the failure of Boeing, which has lost market share and industry leadership to its European-based competitor, Airbus. Boeing is now the clear number two in the industry, as the following chart illustrates. The chart shows the percentage of aircraft delivered each year by manufacturer. Boeing had a strong lead in 2000, which Airbus has now reversed.  This doesn’t help build long-term shareholder value.

 


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author avatar
Ernest Arvai
President AirInsight Group LLC