May 25, 2024

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Boeing whistleblower says 787 Dreamliner may 'disintegrate' due to safety flaws

Boeing whistleblower says 787 Dreamliner may 'disintegrate' due to safety flaws

Boeing is facing newly revealed allegations that its 787 Dreamliner planes suffer from structural defects that could eventually lead to their dismantling, adding to the unprecedented crisis facing the airline giant.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating claims made by a Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

In a lengthy response, Boeing strongly disputed the claims and said it was “absolutely confident” in the 787.

But the new allegations come at a painful time for the Virginia-based company, two weeks after CEO Dave Calhoun and other top executives announced they would step down after a series of damaging stories about the safety of its planes.

Calhoun said the door plug explosion on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max plane in January was a “defining moment for Boeing” — and now the company he leads through the end of the year is once again forced to defend its safety record and protocols.

Salehpour, who worked at Boeing for more than 10 years and submitted his allegations to the FAA, said a change in the construction process introduced shortcuts that caused parts of the fuselage to be installed together incorrectly. He warned that these parts could collapse after thousands of flights.

He told the New York Times that the fuselage comes in several large pieces from different manufacturers that are bolted together on an assembly line.

In 2019, the Times spoke with two other Boeing whistleblowers at the plant in Charleston, South Carolina, where the 787 is made. They alleged that workers were pressured to work quickly on the planes and concerns were ignored.

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One of those whistleblowers — John Barnett, a former Boeing quality inspector who raised safety concerns at the Charleston plant — was found dead in the city in March while legal action was being taken against the company. A legal expert said his lawsuit may continue after his death.

A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner taxis after completing its maiden flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, in 2013. Stephen Brashear/Getty Images File

Salihpour appears to have previously sent his concerns to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who chairs the committee's investigations subcommittee, said Tuesday night that he received the whistleblower allegations earlier this year, and invited Burr to speak at a hearing on Boeing's “broken safety culture” next week. .

Blumenthal and ranking committee member Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin. He wrote to Boeing The Federal Aviation Administration in March announced that they had received allegations from a Boeing engineer about “potentially catastrophic safety risks” with the 787, without naming Salehpour.

Launched after a series of delays in 2011, the 787 was the first commercial aircraft with a main body made mostly of composite materials, primarily carbon fiber reinforced plastic, which is lighter than metals such as aluminium.

Boeing said Salehpour's claims were “inaccurate” and contradicted the results of comprehensive tests that found the 787 could operate safely before requiring “conservative maintenance measures.” The company said that one aircraft can remain in service for between 40 and 50 years.

Regarding the specific claim about new materials potentially failing under the stress of frequent flight, the company said: “Another benefit of the 787’s composite structure is that the material does not corrode or corrode like traditional metals, reducing maintenance over many decades of service.”

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Debra S. Katz, Salehpour's attorney, told the Times that the engineer raised safety concerns with the company but was ignored and sidelined. He was transferred to work on another model, the 777, and found problems building that plane as well, she said.

“This is a culture that prioritizes aircraft production and pushes them out of production even when there are serious concerns about the structural integrity of those aircraft and their production process,” Katz said.

“We continue to monitor these issues under established regulatory protocols and encourage all employees to speak up when issues arise. Retaliation is strictly prohibited at Boeing,” Boeing said in its statement.

“Voluntarily reporting without fear of retaliation is a critical component of aviation safety,” an FAA statement said. We strongly encourage everyone in the aviation industry to share information. “We are thoroughly investigating all reports.”