US authorities investigating whistleblower’s allegations against Boeing over safety concerns

3 minute read

APR 10, 2024,


WASHINGTON – The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating a Boeing whistleblower’s claims that the plane-maker dismissed safety and quality concerns in the production of its 787 and 777 jets, an agency spokesperson said on April 9.

Boeing has been grappling with a full-blown safety crisis that has undermined its reputation following a Jan 5 mid-air panel blowout on a 737 Max plane. It has undergone a management shake-up and US regulators have put curbs on its production. The company’s deliveries fell by half in March.

Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour’s allegations stem from work on the company’s widebody 787 and 777 aeroplanes. He said he faced retaliation, such as threats and exclusion from meetings, after he identified engineering problems that affected the structural integrity of the jets, his lawyers said.


They added that Mr Salehpour claimed shortcuts were taken to reduce bottlenecks during the assembly of the 787 aircraft.

Boeing halted deliveries of the 787 widebody aeroplane for more than a year until August 2022 as the FAA investigated quality problems and manufacturing flaws.

In 2021, Boeing said some 787 aircraft had shims that were not the proper size and some aircraft had areas that did not meet skin-flatness specifications. A shim is a thin piece of material used to fill tiny gaps in a manufactured product. Skin-flatness refers to the smoothness and uniformity of an aircarft’s outer surface, which affect its structural integrity and aerodynamic properties.


In a statement, Boeing said it was fully confident in the 787 Dreamliner, adding that the claims “are inaccurate and do not represent the comprehensive work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and long-term safety of the aircraft”.

Mr Salehpour observed shortcuts used by Boeing to reduce bottlenecks during the 787 assembly process that placed “excessive stress on major airplane joints and embedded drilling debris between key joints on more than 1,000 planes”, his lawyers said.

He told reporters in a call on April 9 that he saw problems with misalignment in the production of the 777 widebody jet which were remedied by using force.

“I literally saw people jumping on the pieces of the airplane to get them to align,” he said.


Boeing shares closed down nearly 2 per cent at US$178.12 on April 9 after the FAA confirmed the investigation, which was first reported by The New York Times.

“Voluntary reporting without fear of reprisal is a critical component in aviation safety,” the FAA said. “We strongly encourage everyone in the aviation industry to share information. We thoroughly investigate all reports.”

An agency source said the FAA has met the whistleblower.

The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace said Mr Salehpour is a member who works at Boeing’s plant in Everett, Washington. The engineering union said it could not comment on Mr Salehpour’s specific concerns.


Senate hearing

US Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office said his investigation subcommittee will hold a hearing – titled Examining Boeing’s Broken Safety Culture: Firsthand Accounts – with Mr Salehpour on April 17.

Mr Blumenthal said he wants Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun, who said in March that he would step down by year-end, to testify at a future hearing.

“We want to provide Boeing the opportunity to explain to the American people why, in the light of recent apparent safety failures, the public should feel confident in Boeing’s engineering and assembly processes,” Mr Blumenthal and Senator Ron Johnson, the top Republican on the panel, wrote.

Mr Salehpour has provided documentation to the FAA that will be made available at the hearing, his lawyers said. In a Jan 19 letter to FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker, the lawyers said Mr Salehpour made his observations while working on the 787 programme in 2021.

“Rather than heeding his warnings, Boeing prioritised getting the planes to market as quickly as possible, despite the known, well-substantiated issues he raised,” lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said in a statement on April 9.

Mr Whitaker has taken a hard line on Boeing since the Jan 5 Alaska Air emergency, barring the plane-maker from expanding 737 Max production, and requiring it to develop a comprehensive plan to address “systemic quality-control issues” within 90 days.

Separately, the US Department of Justice is investigating whether Boeing violated a 2021 settlement that shielded the US plane-maker from prosecution following two fatal Max crashes in 2018 and 2019.

That January 2021 agreement, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, gave the plane-maker an avenue to avoid prosecution on a charge of conspiring to defraud the FAA.

In determining whether Boeing violated the settlement, prosecutors are expected to lean heavily on findings from the FAA’s investigations, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters previously.

The FAA in August 2022 approved the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner for delivery since 2021 after the manufacturer made inspection and retrofit changes needed to meet certification standards. There are currently about 1,100 Dreamliners in service, Boeing said. REUTERS

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