May 20, 2024


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Boeing is in the spotlight as Congress subpoenas a whistleblower to testify about flaws in the planes

Boeing is in the spotlight as Congress subpoenas a whistleblower to testify about flaws in the planes

Boeing will be in the spotlight on Capitol Hill on Wednesday

Boeing will be in the spotlight during back-to-back hearings on Wednesday, as Congress weighs allegations of major safety failures at the embattled plane maker.

The first session will include members of an expert panel that found serious flaws in Boeing's safety culture.

The main event will be a second hearing featuring a Boeing engineer who claims that parts of the skin on the 787 Dreamliner planes were not installed properly and could eventually break. The whistleblower's lawyer says Boeing ignored the engineer's concerns and prevented him from speaking to experts about fixing the defects.

Salehpour is scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the Senate Investigations Subcommittee. There is also another Boeing whistleblower — Ed Pearson, the former director of the Boeing 737 program — and two other aviation technical experts on the witness list.

The Democrat who chairs the committee and its senior Republicans have asked Boeing for a set of documents dating back six years.

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A Boeing spokesman said the company was cooperating with lawmakers' investigation and offered to provide documents and briefings.

The company says claims about the structural integrity of the 787 are untrue. Two Boeing engineering executives said this week that in both design tests and inspections of the planes — some of which are 12 years old — no findings of fatigue or cracking have been found in the composite panels. They suggested that the material, composed of carbon fiber and resin, is almost resistant to fatigue, which is a constant concern with traditional aluminum airframes.

Boeing officials also denied another claim by Salehpur: that he saw factory workers jumping on fuselage parts on 777 planes to get them upright.

Salehpour is the latest whistleblower to emerge with allegations about manufacturing problems at Boeing. The company has been in crisis mode since a door connection panel on a 737 MAX exploded during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. Investigators are focusing on four bolts that were removed and apparently not replaced during the repair process at the Boeing plant.

The company faces a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice and separate investigations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board.

CEO David Calhoun, who will step down at the end of the year, has said several times that Boeing is taking steps to improve manufacturing quality and its safety culture. He described the Alaska plane explosion as a “defining moment” from which Boeing would emerge better.

There is a lot of skepticism about such comments.

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“We need to look at what Boeing does, not just what it says it does,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which will hold its first hearings on Wednesday.

The FAA is also likely to take some hits. Until recently, the agency “passed over a lot of Boeing's repeated bad behavior,” especially when it certified the 737 MAX nearly a decade ago, Duckworth said. Two Max planes crashed in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people, after faulty activation of a flight control system that the FAA did not fully understand.

Leaders of the Senate Investigations Subcommittee also requested documents from the Federal Aviation Administration about its oversight of Boeing.

The subcommittee hearing on Wednesday will be followed by a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, which is scheduled to hear from members of the expert panel that examined safety at Boeing. Despite improvements made after the Max crash, Boeing's safety culture remains flawed, and employees who raise concerns may face pressure and retaliation, the group said.

One witness, MIT aviation lecturer Javier de Luis, lost his sister in the Max II crash.