FAA notes multiple instances of quality control problems at Boeing

FAA notes “multiple instances” of quality control problems at Boeing

Washington DC CNN –

The Federal Aviation Administration has found several problems with Boeing's production practices following a six-week audit of Boeing that was triggered by a broken door plug on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 on Jan. 5.

“The FAA has identified violations in Boeing’s control of its manufacturing process, parts handling and storage, and product inspection,” the FAA said in a news release, but did not immediately provide further details.

A separate report released before the door jamming incident but released last month found “gaps” in Boeing's safety culture, including a disconnect between management and employees and employee fears of retaliation for reporting safety concerns.

The FAA said the results of both that audit and the separate report should be part of Boeing's quality improvement plan. Boeing has 90 days to submit a plan to address its quality problems.

Boeing said it is prepared to do whatever is necessary to improve quality.

“We have a clear picture of what needs to be done. There was transparency in all of these discussions,” the company said in a statement. “Boeing will develop a comprehensive action plan with measurable criteria that demonstrates the administrator's profound change [Michael] Whitaker and the FAA requirement. Our Boeing leadership team is committed to meeting this challenge.”

It's not the first such promise from Boeing since the Alaska Air incident. In January, Boeing CEO David Calhoun admitted that Boeing needed to improve its quality controls.

“Whatever final conclusions are drawn, Boeing bears responsibility for what happened,” Calhoun said in his comments to the company’s investors in January. “An event like this must not happen on a plane leaving our factory. We simply have to do more for our customers and their passengers.”

The audit also included the large Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems, which, among other things, builds the fuselages for the Boeing 737 Max 9 jet. Without providing further details, the FAA said it found several instances in which both companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.

Boeing previously owned the divisions that now make up the majority of Spirit, but spun it off as a separate company in 2005. Boeing announced Friday that it is in negotiations for a possible reacquisition of Spirit.

Asked for comment on the report, a Spirit spokesperson said, “We are in communication with Boeing and the FAA about appropriate corrective actions.”

More than two dozen FAA inspectors are taking part in the audit of Boeing's 737 factory in Renton, Washington, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker told members of Congress during a hearing last month. The agency isn't the only government agency looking into Boeing's quality problems.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident aboard the Alaska Air flight. A preliminary report into the incident found that the four screws needed to secure the door plug were missing when the jet left the Boeing factory for delivery to Alaska Air last October. The NTSB has not yet pinpointed blame for the missing screws.

In addition, the Justice Department is examining whether deficiencies discovered in the doorstop blowout on a 737 Max flight last month violated a deferred-prosecution agreement that Boeing signed three years ago after two fatal Max flights, according to one person. Crashes signed with the government had confided in the investigation. This investigation could expose Boeing to criminal liability.

The final results of this audit will likely be the backbone of future congressional hearings that could hold Boeing accountable.

This Wednesday, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy will provide the Senate committee that oversees aviation with the latest information on the investigation into Alaska Flight 1282. The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee said hearings with Boeing executives will be held after senators hear the latest investigation findings.

This story has been updated to reflect additional reporting and context.