DALLAS — Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates reported today that a Boeing whistleblower says mechanics on the company’s Renton final assembly line removed the fuselage panel that blew off an Alaska Airlines (AS) Boeing 737-9 for repair and then reinstalled it improperly.
If the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation findings corroborate this information, it would indicate that Boeing is principally responsible for the accident rather than its supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, which originally installed the panel into the 737-9 fuselage in Wichita, Kansas.
The Seattle Times report would give more context to AS CEO Ben Minicucci’s comments to NBC News, where he lamented that Boeing was better than this. “Flight 1282 should never have happened. It should never have happened.” The same sentiment came from United Airlines (UA) CEO Scott Kirby, who commented to CNBC that he was “disappointed” and criticized the manufacturer for its recent quality lapses.
In a statement to NBC News, Boeing said: “We have let down our airline customers and are deeply sorry for the significant disruption to them, their employees and their passengers. We are taking action on a comprehensive plan to bring these airplanes safely back to service and to improve our quality and delivery performance. We will follow the lead of the FAA and support our customers every step of the way.”
Boeing Silent on Missing Bolts Story
The anonymous whistleblower, who appears to have access to Boeing’s manufacturing records of the work done on the specific AS jet that suffered the blowout, provided additional details about how the door plug came to be removed and then mis-installed.
According to the whistleblower, Boeing’s own records indicate that four bolts that prevent the door plug from sliding up off the door frame stop pads were not installed when Boeing delivered the airplane. The Seattle Times offered Boeing the chance to dispute the details in a story, but Boeing, along with Spirit, the FAA, the Machinists Union, and the NTSB, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Mike Whitaker has said the FAA has “boots on the ground” at Boeing’s 737 MAX factory and will maintain a physical presence there until the agency is confident that the manufacturer’s quality control system is functioning effectively. Whitaker stated that the FAA is transitioning from an audit approach to a direct inspection approach at Boeing.
For the time being, the Renton fault is just hearsay. The NTSB investigation has not independently verified the whistleblower information and will ultimately assess and conclude the causes and responsibility for the accident.
Featured image: Assembly of a 737 in the Renton Factory. Photo: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Boeing Plant in Renton, 5/18/2010, Public Domain