Has Boeing learned from its past mistakes? The in-flight blowout put the company on the defensive again

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Toronto resident Chris Moore, whose daughter Danielle was killed in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max in 2019, said he was not surprised when he heard about the mid-air explosion of a Boeing 737 Max 9 earlier this month.

“It’s only a matter of time before something like this happens,” Moore said. “(Boeing says) safety is the number one priority, but they don’t lead by example.”

Part of that discussion included a stop at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday by Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun, who met with several senators. Calhoun said he was there “in the spirit of transparency” to “answer all their questions.”

The meeting was prompted by a letter written to Calhoun earlier this month from U.S. Senators Ed Markey, JD Vance and Peter Welch. The senators, who are members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, wrote a letter after the latest explosion saying they were concerned about “a systemic problem with Boeing’s abilities to make safe planes.”

Calhoun’s meeting comes as Boeing is once again under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun speaks briefly with reporters after a meeting in the office of Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. Part of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 fleet was grounded following an in-flight cabin panel blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun speaks briefly with reporters after a meeting in Senator Mark Warner’s office at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

Investigators are trying to learn why a commission yanked one of Boeing’s planes from Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, when the plane was flying 15,000 feet above Oregon. Known as a door stopper, the panel covered a space left for an emergency door.

Authorities say there were no serious injuries among the 171 passengers and six crew members on board at the time, although the plane’s interior suffered significant damage.

Accidents in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people

This eruption put the plane maker back on the defensive after years of attempts to regain confidence after the Max crashes in 2018 and 2019. It involved the crash of a Lion Air plane in Indonesia that killed all 189 people on board. board and the Ethiopian Airlines crash, which killed 157 people.

These accidents led to an 18-month investigation by a committee of the United States House of Representatives, which concluded in September 2020 that Boeing had failed in the design and development of the Max, as well as in its transparency with of the FAA. The House also found that the FAA failed in oversight and certification.

A month later, the FAA lifted the grounding order on the 737 Max allowing it to fly again. Still, some problems persisted, including electrical problems in April 2021 that led to the suspension of service to dozens of planes. In 2023, the aircraft maker also faced some supply quality issues, and in December it urged airlines to inspect newer 737 Max planes for a possible loose bolt in the aircraft’s control system. rudder.

In January 2023, the FAA announced that it had assembled a group of experts, including people from the FAA, NASA, airlines and aircraft manufacturers. to examine safety practices at Boeing. Their report is expected next month.

Since the last in-flight flare, all Boeing Max 9 planes have been grounded. At the same time, the FAA is conducting an audit involving the aircraft’s production line and its suppliers “to assess Boeing’s compliance with its approved quality procedures.”

Earlier this week, in an interview with NBC News, Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said the airline’s inspection of its Boeing 737 Max 9 planes found “many” planes had loose bolts. Days after the incident, United Airlines also reported finding loose bolts and other “installation issues” on part of some Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft.

“A final warning” for Boeing?

“I’m disappointed that … this continues to happen at Boeing. It’s not new,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in an interview Tuesday on CNBC.

“We need Boeing to succeed. But they face ongoing manufacturing challenges. They need to act here.”

WATCH | Not everyone was surprised by the latest eruption:

Why Boeing’s 737 Max 9 problems didn’t surprise this whistleblower

A former Boeing executive who reported problems with Max series planes before fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 was not surprised by the recent malfunction. Ed Pierson talks to The National’s Adrienne Arsenault about how this could have happened and what needs to be done to prevent further problems.

However, in Washington, Boeing’s CEO told reporters Wednesday that the company “doesn’t fly airplanes that we don’t have 100 percent confidence in.”

Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, also said Boeing is taking action “as part of an overall plan to safely return these aircraft to service and improve our quality and delivery performance.” .

But for Moore, these are just words.

“That doesn’t mean anything to me right now. I think the proof is in the pudding.”

Aviation safety consultant Robert Ditchey said part of the problem is that Boeing no longer oversees the entire manufacturing process. It outsources manufacturing to companies such as Spirit AeroSystem to make certain components. Subcontractors in turn outsource part of their work, he explained.

That means Boeing may not know the manufacturing process for some of the plane’s materials, Ditchey said.

“Is the alloy really what Boeing wants? Or is it something else? What is the quality of this alloy? Is it uniform? Is it the appropriate thickness? This is critical in the structure of ‘a plane,’ he said in an interview from California.

“The fact is (Boeing has) absolutely no control over this.”

Dickey also wonders who was responsible for the design of the door stopper implicated in the blowout.

“I’ve known Boeing structures for years and years. It doesn’t look like a Boeing product,” he said.

“So who designed it? Who designed it?”

John Strickland, a U.K.-based aviation consultant, said airline executives he spoke with expressed the need for a culture change at Boeing that would extend to personnel changes at higher levels.

“The alarm bells have really been ringing and we must take heed of them,” he said.

Strickland said it was “still surprising” that the mid-air explosion occurred as Boeing returns from “an incredibly difficult challenge to trust” in the company, not only from the traveling public but airline customers.

“I would say that, in a way, it’s like a final warning.”

In a Seattle Times column, Andy Pasztor, who has covered aviation safety for the Wall Street Journal for nearly three decades and is currently writing a book on aviation safety, wrote that investigations into the recent incident must extend far beyond safety practices and manufacturing controls. .

“Investigators should examine persistent corporate bankruptcies over the past four decades to become more transparent and law-abiding,” he wrote.

Boeing executives, he writes, did not fully learn “from previous mistakes.”

“At this point, regulators, lawmakers and passengers should be questioning what it is in Boeing’s corporate DNA that has mired it in serious quality control and legal problems.”

As it happens6:55 a.m.Alaska Airlines mid-combat explosion is ‘another black eye for Boeing,’ aviation expert says

As Boeing tries to understand what caused the mid-flight explosion of one of its Boeing 737 Max 9s last week, an expert says the company is a shell of its former self formerly. John Goglia, an aviation safety consultant who worked for the US National Transportation Safety Board, spoke with As It Happens host Nil Köks.

Former NTSB member John Goglia told CBC’s As It Happens earlier this month that the panel explosion was just “another black eye for Boeing.” He believes Boeing has lost touch with its products, especially at senior levels of the company.

“Boeing is not the same Boeing that I grew up with,” he said.

Goglia said that if he were the head of Boeing, he would hire at least 100 new inspectors to refocus on quality.

“They need to put the products on solid footing,” he said. “Every few months there seem to be new revelations about issues.”

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