Boeing chief faces grilling in Washington after blast

Boeing chief faces grilling in Washington after blast

  • By Natalie Sherman and Tom Espiner
  • Business Correspondents, BBC News

image caption,

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun in Washington

Boeing’s chief is facing questions from lawmakers in Washington as pressure mounts to explain the mistakes that caused one of its planes to break down this month.

Boss Dave Calhoun told reporters before the meetings that he was ready to share “everything I can.”

However, he refused to comment on the report that the part was installed incorrectly at one of the company’s plants.

A post by someone claiming to work at Boeing described Boeing’s 737 production as “a rambling, rambling, disaster waiting to happen.”

It said the firm’s records show that four bolts meant to hold the door jamb in place were not installed when the Boeing 737 Max 9 was delivered to customer Alaska Airlines.

On January 5, just eight weeks later, the panel exploded shortly after takeoff, terrifying passengers and forcing an emergency return to the Portland, Oregon airport.

No serious injuries were reported, but customers sued the company after the incident, accusing the company of negligence.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded 171 other 737 Max 9 planes of a similar design for inspections, forcing thousands of flight cancellations.

It also recently advised airlines to inspect older 737-900ER models, which use the same door design as Boeing’s Max 9s, although it did not retire the planes.

The whistleblower account said Boeing had to stop production of the 737 because of an “alarming” number of problems with the planes during inspections.

Regarding this particular plane, Boeing and Spirit employees at a Boeing factory in Washington said they were working to identify and repair problems before delivery. The informant says the bolts were removed during that operation.

But according to the post, the final gate inspection never took place, which the account blames on a communication breakdown, in part because Boeing used two different computer systems to report and sign off on the problems.

According to The Seattle Times, which reported another anonymous source, it was Boeing workers who removed the bolts.

Mr. Calhoun referred questions to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the incident.

Executives at Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, which own two of the largest 737 Max 9 fleets, have expressed frustration with Boeing because the grounding creates chaos and added costs.

In an interview with NBC News, Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said there was “no doubt” the plane “came off the production line with a faulty door.” He said the airline’s inspections after the incident found “many” loose bolts.

“I’m more disappointed and frustrated,” he said. “I’m pissed off.”

The comments underscore the difficult task Boeing faces in rebuilding trust among airline customers and the flying public, which has been shaken by plane crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

The FAA is currently investigating Boeing’s manufacturing process and reviewing its current system for certifying airplanes, which leaves some of that authority to Boeing.

Online travel agent Kayak recently reported a 15-fold increase in searches for users trying to escape Boeing 737 Max planes since the crash.

Mr. Calhoun told reporters that he understands the seriousness of the concerns.

“We fly safe planes – we don’t [aeroplanes] “We don’t have 100% confidence in the weather,” he said. “I’m here today in the spirit of transparency.”

The incident drew attention to other issues with Boeing planes, including the nose wheel of a different Boeing 757 that was lined up for takeoff in the United States on Saturday.

None of the 184 passengers or six crew members were injured when the wheel rolled down the hill on the Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta, the FAA said in a statement.

Delta Air Lines said the plane was scheduled to fly to Bogotá, Colombia, and passengers were placed on an alternate flight.

He apologized to the customers and said that “the incident is being investigated”.

Boeing, which stopped supplying the 757 in 2004, declined to comment on the incident.

In response to the ongoing situation with the Max 9s, Stan Deal, Boeing’s chief executive of commercial aircraft, said the planemaker “deeply regrets the disappointment and serious disruption to our automotive customers, their employees and their passengers.”

A spokesman said the firm had “announced a number of immediate measures to strengthen quality”, including more inspections.

Boeing also appointed Kirkland H. Donald, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, to oversee the overall quality of its commercial aircraft operation.

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