FAA Gives Boeing 90 Days to Develop Plan to Address Quality Issues

By Reuters
February 29, 2024US News
FAA Gives Boeing 90 Days to Develop Plan to Address Quality Issues
An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington on March 21, 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

WASHINGTON—Boeing must develop a comprehensive plan to address “systemic quality-control issues” within 90 days, the head of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Wednesday, after a mid-air emergency last month sparked renewed safety concerns.

The head of the FAA demanded the plan in a statement critical of the planemaker following an all-day meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun on Tuesday.

“Boeing must commit to real and profound improvements,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said. “Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way, with mutually understood milestones and expectations.”

Mr. Calhoun said in a statement Boeing’s leadership team was “totally committed” to addressing FAA concerns and developing the plan.

“We have a clear picture of what needs to be done,” Mr. Calhoun said. “Boeing will develop the comprehensive action plan with measurable criteria that demonstrates the profound change that Administrator Mr. Whitaker and the FAA demand.”

Boeing has scrambled to explain and strengthen safety procedures after a door panel detached during a Jan. 5 flight on a brand new Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing while passengers were exposed to a gaping hole 16,000 feet above the ground.

Boeing said last month the the Justice Department was currently considering whether the company fulfilled its obligations under the agreement. The Justice Department declined to comment on Wednesday.

Boeing shares fell 1 percent in after-hours trading.

Production Cap

Boeing’s production rate has been capped by the FAA and its operations closely scrutinized by lawmakers and customers following the Jan. 5 incident. The new FAA statement raises fresh questions about how long the production rate freeze will last.

Mr. Whitaker said Boeing’s plan must incorporate forthcoming results of the FAA production-line audit and findings from an expert review panel report released on Monday.

That report, which had been commissioned in early 2023, was highly critical of the company’s safety management processes, saying Boeing suffered from “inadequate and confusing implementation of the components of a positive safety culture.”

Boeing last week abruptly removed Ed Clark, the head of its troubled 737 MAX program, as part of a management shakeup.

The FAA said on Wednesday that Boeing must take steps to improve its Safety Management System (SMS) program, which it committed to in 2019, and combine it with a Quality Management System to “create a measurable, systemic shift in manufacturing quality control.”

“Boeing must take a fresh look at every aspect of their quality-control process and ensure that safety is the company’s guiding principle,” Mr. Whitaker said.

The Alaska Airlines mishap is Boeing’s second major crisis in recent years, after the crashes in 2018 and 2019 prompted a grounding of the 737 MAX for 20 months that damaged Boeing’s reputation.

The door panel that flew off the MAX 9 appeared to be missing four key bolts, according to a preliminary report this month from the U.S. National Safety Transportation Board. The panel is a plug in place on some MAX 9s instead of an additional emergency exit.

The FAA panel report referenced the recent issues, saying it amplified concerns that “safety-related messages or behaviors are not being implemented across the entire Boeing population.”

Airline industry executives have expressed frustration with Boeing’s quality control. France’s Airbus, the only other major manufacturer of commercial jets, in January reported record annual jet orders and confirmed an 11 percent rise in 2023 deliveries, maintaining the top manufacturing spot against Boeing for a fifth year.

The door plug blowout led to a weeks-long grounding of the MAX 9 in January and angered Boeing’s airline customers. Some, including Alaska Airlines, announced they would conduct enhanced quality oversight of planes before they leave the Boeing factory.

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