FAA tells Boeing to come up with plan in 90 days to fix quality issues

By Thomson Reuters Feb 28, 2024 | 8:54 AM

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) -Boeing it must develop a comprehensive action plan to address “systemic quality-control issues” within 90 days, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday, following an all-day meeting with the planemaker’s CEO Dave Calhoun the day before.

“Boeing must commit to real and profound improvements,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in the statement. “Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way, with mutually understood milestones and expectations.”

Boeing has scrambled to explain and strengthen safety procedures after a door panel detached during a Jan. 5 flight on a brand new Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing while passengers were exposed to a gaping hole 16,000 feet above the ground.

Boeing’s production has been curbed by regulators and closely scrutinized by lawmakers and customers following the Jan. 5 incident.

Whitaker said Boeing’s plan must incorporate forthcoming results of the FAA production-line audit and findings from an expert review panel report released earlier this week.

That report, which had been commissioned in early 2023, was highly critical of the company’s safety management processes, saying Boeing suffered from “inadequate and confusing implementation of the components of a positive safety culture.”

Whitaker visited Boeing’s Renton, Washington factory, where the 737 MAX line is produced, on February 12.

The Alaska Airlines mishap is Boeing’s second major crisis in recent years, after crashes in 2018 and 2019 of MAX planes killed 346 people. That prompted a grounding of the 737 MAX for 20 months that damaged Boeing’s reputation.

The FAA panel report referenced the recent issues, saying it amplified concerns that “safety-related messages or behaviors are not being implemented across the entire Boeing population.”

Airline industry executives have expressed frustration with Boeing’s quality control. France’s Airbus, the only other major manufacturer of commercial jets, in January reported record annual jet orders and confirmed an 11% rise in 2023 deliveries, maintaining the top manufacturing spot against Boeing for a fifth year.

The FAA grounded the MAX 9 for several weeks in January and has capped Boeing’s production of the MAX while it audits the manufacturing process after a string of quality issues.

The door panel that flew off the MAX 9 appeared to be missing four key bolts, according to a preliminary report this month from the U.S. National Safety Transportation Board. The panel is a plug in place on some 737 MAX 9s instead of an additional emergency exit.

According to the report, the door plug in question was removed to repair rivet damage, but the NTSB has not found evidence the bolts were re-installed.

The disclosure angered Boeing’s airline customers. Some including Alaska Airlines announced they would conduct enhanced quality oversight of planes before they leave the Boeing factory.

Boeing shares were down slightly in morning trading Wednesday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson)