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Industry Fraud Brings Down Boeing Planes

Senate subcommittee grants whistleblowers a platform.

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Articles, Opinion, Politics

Recurrent airline accidents involving Boeing jets have triggered both public alarm and government scrutiny. Despite assurances that manufacturing safeguards would be improved following two high-profile Boeing plane accidents in 2018 and 2019 that caused the deaths of 346 people, recent whistleblower revelations of a “broken safety culture” at the company have prompted ire from federal regulators. They have also attracted the attention of the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), which held a June 18 hearing not-so-subtly dubbed “Boeing’s Broken Safety Culture: CEO Dave Calhoun Testifies.”

A Series of Accidents

In March, a Boeing 777 embarrassingly lost a wheel at takeoff from San Fransico, forcing an emergency landing in Los Angeles. In January, a door flew off a 737 Max-9 mid-air at takeoff in Portland, Oregon; another 737 Max was caught in a “Dutch roll” incident in May that is under FAA investigation. The Senate investigations followed. As ranking PSI member Ron Johnson (R-WI) explained, “Whistleblower allegations coupled with recent incidents of aircraft malfunctions have raised concerns about the safety of Boeing airplanes.” This month, the FAA announced it is investigating Boeing and Airbus for using titanium in their planes that came with paperwork verifying its authenticity that could have been falsified.

In his opening statement at the June 18 hearing, PSI Chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) delivered a scathing rebuke to the company:

“For a while, some started to believe that Boeing might have changed. But then this past January, the façade literally blew off the hollow shell that had been Boeing’s promises to the world. Once that chasm was exposed, we learned that there was virtually no bottom to the void that lay below. PSI started this investigation after current Boeing Quality Engineer Sam Salehpour came forward to disclose alleged shortcuts in the production of 787 and 777 aircraft that could pose catastrophic safety risks over time. …Our investigation has proceeded since we first heard from him, and we have heard from many others. We have more than a dozen whistleblowers by this point, and we encourage more to come forward.”

Graft and Stonewalling

The concurrence of jet malfunctions and multiple graft allegations threaten more accidents and a loss of public confidence in the airline industry. Seeking accountability from Boeing, Congress faces a loss of its own: Hundreds of civilians have died, but shoddy safety protocols, fraud, and punishment of whistleblowers persist. Moreover, Boeing is accused by Ron Johnson of recalcitrance in cooperating with the PSI inquiry:

“…While Boeing has produced approximately 1.7 million pages of records, the vast majority of those records consist of raw data that do not appear to be responsive to the Subcommittee’s requests. …The Subcommittee also wrote to FAA requesting its assessments and risk-based reviews of Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft, among other records. FAA continues to fail to provide those documents.”

The integrity of materials, manufacturing, and inspection are vitally important to the airline industry and the human lives, both civilian and military, that rely upon them. Titanium is a very expensive, high-performance steel integral to the airline and aerospace industry. It is manufactured with varying properties and tolerances, as required for particular applications under intense flight stress. Sheet titanium is also precious, making mis-certification of materials a potentially lucrative venture. In one case, a Massachusetts father-and-son duo were sentenced to jail for sandblasting and re-stamping titanium with the manufacturer’s mark of a different titanium mill and fabricating certificates regarding origin and satisfaction of advanced aerospace quality standards.

Boeing CEO Grovels

The degree and diversity of potential safety flaws alleged against Boeing are troubling. The company denies any safety risks or wrongdoing, while its CEO David L. Calhoun acknowledges the magnitude of its responsibility:

“Nearly every second, a Boeing commercial or defense product takes off and lands somewhere around the world, making us responsible for the safety of millions of passengers and flight crews every day, including our men and women in uniform.”

Chairman Blumenthal argued forcefully for the need to improve safety standards at Boeing, but claimed the company has not done enough:

“Boeing is making some leadership changes, but they look more like management musical chairs, moving the same people to different roles within the company – people who may have been responsible and should be held accountable.”

Blumenthal emphasized that Boeing and the airline industry face “an opportunity to change a broken safety culture.” Sadly, once the public loses trust in the safety of air travel, it may become impossible for Boeing to re-stamp its mark of goodwill on its tarnished jets.

Read More From John Klar

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