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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Boeing’s safety culture faulted by FAA in new report

Boeing 737 Max 8 airplanes on the assembly line at the Boeing plant in Renton, Wash., on March 27, 2019. A Federal Aviation Administration report released on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, found flaws in Boeing’s safety culture while noting that the airplane manufacturer had made some improvements since two fatal crashes involving the 737 Max 8 jet in 2018 and 2019. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

By Niraj Chokshi

Boeing’s safety culture remains flawed, despite improvements made after two fatal crashes involving the 737 Max 8 jet in 2018 and 2019, a Federal Aviation Administration report released earlier this week found.

The report, written by a group of experts convened a year ago at Congress’ behest, found that there was a “disconnect” between senior management and other employees at Boeing, which makes commercial airplanes as well military aircraft and technology. The company, the panel found, has at times been “inadequate and confusing” in the way it has administered its safety culture.

In a statement, the FAA said it would “immediately begin a thorough review of the report” and take action on its recommendations as appropriate.

“We will continue to hold Boeing to the highest standard of safety and will work to ensure the company comprehensively addresses these recommendations,” the agency said.

Boeing said in a statement that it supported the panel’s work and acknowledged that, although it had taken “important steps” to improve its safety culture, “there is more work to do.” Since 2019, the company, from its board of directors on down, has made changes to emphasize safety.

New concerns about the company’s safety culture emerged last month after a panel blew open on a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane during an Alaska Airlines flight. The FAA report does not refer to that incident, but the National Transportation Safety Board has said the panel, known as a door plug, on the Alaska plane may have left Boeing’s factory without critical bolts to hold it in place.

After the incident, Boeing management has encouraged employees to share concerns about safety.

“Our people on the factory floor know what we must do to improve better than anyone,” Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in a message to employees Jan. 31. “We should all seek their feedback, understand how to help and always encourage any team member who raises issues that need to be addressed. We will go slow, we will not rush the system, and we will take our time to do it right.”

The FAA panel issued 53 recommendations, based on a review of thousands of pages of company documents and more than 250 interviews, each lasting at least an hour. The recommendations include urging Boeing to better communicate and define the language it uses to reinforce safety and to do more to convince employees that their anonymity will be protected when they report concerns or problems. The report mainly focused on policies and procedures that Boeing could improve, rather than highlighting specific failures.

Internally, Boeing has for years encouraged employees to be proactive in protecting safety and other principles valued by the company by urging them to “seek, speak and listen.” But the panel found that there had been “little or no attention given to seek or listen.”

The panel also reviewed changes Boeing made to a program under which the FAA delegates some of its authority to company employees. That practice attracted intense scrutiny after the fatal crashes, although experts say Congress would need to authorize the agency to spend a lot more money and hire many more people to do that work itself.

Changes that Boeing made to that delegated authority program helped to protect employees from interference or punishment, but the panel found that opportunities for retaliation remained. The panel also concluded that Boeing should do more to account for human factors in aircraft design and operation, including collecting more input from pilots.

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