Boeing under fire for allegedly skipping safety steps on planes

Salehpour said that after he raised concerns about the planes he experienced retaliation from the company, saying they took him out of meetings and said threats are part of the company’s retaliation.
Boeing 737 Max

Lawmakers and aviation experts raised major concerns about the American aerospace company, Boeing, at two Senate hearings on Wednesday.

The hearing comes as Boeing has faced mounting criticism over mechanical malfunctions and questions over quality.

In particular, Boeing whistleblower Sam Salehpour, testified at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs on Wednesday about major safety concerns because of Boeing’s policies that he noticed while working there.

“Right now, from what I’ve seen the airplanes are not being built per [specifications] and per requirements,” Salehpour said. “They are doing stuff that increases the risk factors. When you increase the risk factors, it’s not just one … as the plane gets older, all these things that you said are not a safety issue, becomes a safety issue.”

Salehpour said that after he raised concerns about the planes he experienced retaliation from the company, saying they took him out of meetings and said threats are part of the company’s retaliation.

Another Boeing whistleblower, Ed Pierson, a former senior manager at the company, testified that Boeing “illegally removed thousands of quality control inspections on individual airplanes without the FAA’s knowledge and without the knowledge of the airlines.”

“Although many of these inspections have been reinstated, hundreds of airplanes have left Boeing factories without those thousands of inspections,” he continued.

One expert at a different hearing held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation referred to a Jan. 5 event where the door blew off of a Boeing 737 Max 9 while in the air. Later, the CEO said on an earnings call that “we caused the problem,” which was apparently related to missing bolts on the door. Boeing has been under fire for reportedly rushing production and thus allegedly compromising quality.

“I believe it is safe to say, given our findings, that the events of Jan 5 and the subsequent NTSB investigation identifying the missing bolts in the Alaska Air door did not really come as a surprise,” Javier de Luis, a lecturer with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said during his testimony.

“What was distressing, though, was the recent statement by Mr. Brian West, Boeing’s finance chief, at an investor conference where he said: ‘For years, we prioritized the movement of the airplane through the factory over getting it done right. That’s got to change. The leadership team got it in the immediate aftermath of January 5,’" de Luis said.

“I would have thought that they would have ‘gotten it’ five years ago,” he added.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration are currently investigating Boeing as well.

The FAA said in March after an audit that it "found multiple instances where the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements."

Aviation expert Joe Jacobson testified Wednesday that the FAA was too lax with Boeing.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, pointed to recommendations from an expert panel, which put forward 53 points of improvement that Boeing was given 90 days to execute.

“The expert panel’s 53 recommendations regarding Boeing’s ODA, Safety Management System and safety culture serves as an important catalyst for future aviation safety legislation,” Cantwell said at the hearing. “While we have made safety improvements through the aircraft certification reform law—and some of that is still playing out with the new Administrator, who I think is more aggressively taking the responsibilities of the Act seriously, we look to build on those advancements with a 5-year FAA reauthorization bill and some enhanced safety features, but we’re not going to stop there.”

Cantwell said that Boeing has more to do to carry out those recommendations, which include changing the company’s culture, improving oversight, and helping employees raise concerns when they see a problem without fear of retaliation.

Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun announced last month he would step down as CEO after serving thorough 2024.

“We will remain squarely focused on completing the work we have done together to return our company to stability after the extraordinary challenges of the past five years, with safety and quality at the forefront of everything that we do,” Calhoun said in a statement at the time.

Boeing has emphasized quality in its public statements recently, likely hoping to address concerns.

“Since January, we've organized Quality Stand Downs across our sites, pausing production and deliveries for a day to focus on our safety and quality processes,” the company said in a message pinned to its profile on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Collaborating and learning together is helping us create plans to enhance quality and compliance across our programs.”