Whistleblowers blast Boeing’s safety failures, “cover-ups” in Senate hearing – National & International News – WED 17Apr2024

Whistleblowers testify about lax safety culture at Boeing

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing today on safety culture at Boeing, which has come under heavy scrutiny in recent months since a doorplug blew off an Alaska Airlines plane (a Boeing 737 Max 9) mid-flight in January. It’s since come to light that the doorplug was improperly installed and some of the bolts meant to secure it were missing. The National Transportation Safety Board and FBI have both opened investigations into the incident. NTSB head Jennifer Homendy recently told Congress that Boeing was not cooperating fully with their probe and had failed to provide requested documentation.

At today’s hearing, Boeing quality engineer Sam Salehpour told Senators that the company prioritizes profits over manufacturing quality and safety. Salehpour spoke about “shortcuts” Boeing had adopted in assembling its 787 Dreamliners, resulting in “potentially defective parts and defective installations in 787 fleets”.

Salehpour was later reassigned to Boeing’s 777 program, where he alleges he “literally saw people jumping on pieces of airplane to get them to align.”

A second whistleblower, former Boeing employee Ed Pierson, accused Boeing of a “criminal cover-up” regarding the Alaska Airlines incident. Pierson said he had shared documents with the FBI as part of their criminal probe. He has also raised concerns the Max program generally, including failures that led to two deadly plane crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed nearly 350 people.

Pierson, now executive director of the Foundation for Aviation Safety, recently told Politico that he refuses to fly on any Max plane when travelling.

Threats and intimidation

Echoing testimony from other whistleblowers, Salehpour says Boeing’s management uses threats, including physical threats, and intimidation to discourage workers from reporting issues that could cause production delays. “Despite what Boeing officials state publicly, there is no safety culture at Boeing,” Salehpour said. “Employees like me who speak up about defects with its production activities and lack of quality control are ignored, marginalized, threatened, sidelined and worse”. 

When Salehpour raised concerns, “I was ignored, I was told not to create delays. I was told frankly to shut up”. Salehpour also related an incident where a tire on his car was punctured by a nail. His mechanic told him the nail was put there intentionally, not something he picked up while driving. Salehpour said he had “no proof” the company was behind it, but believes it happened while he was at work.

Pierson and Salehpour’s testimony corroborate allegations from another former Boeing quality manager and whistleblower, John Barnett. Last month, Barnett died in circumstances that many consider suspicious. At the time, he was giving testimony ahead of a trial for his whistleblower retaliation suit against Boeing.

Barnett’s last job with Boeing was at the Charleston, South Carolina, facility which produced the 787 Dreamliner. During his time in Charleston, Barnett brought numerous safety concerns to management. One issue Barnett flagged was workers breaking into a storage room where defective parts were kept so they could install them on planes. Not only did management not act on Barnett’s concerns, Barnett said they retaliated against him for raising them. 

In this 2-minute clip, an undercover Al Jazeera reporter asks workers at the Charleston factory if they would fly on the planes being built there. Most said, “No”.  This is an excerpt from from a lengthier report on Boeing, which you can watch by clicking hereThese reports were published in 2014, during the time John Barnett was working at the Charleston factory.

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