Boeing Confidence Crisis Deepens With 787 Probe

Boeing Co.'s faith is eroding after an engineer claimed the corporation cut corners on its 787 Dreamliner to relieve production difficulties.

On Tuesday, experienced Boeing employee Sam Salehpour complained that factory workers mismeasured and filled gaps when 787 airframe components are linked. He warned the construction might cause “significant fatigue” in the composite barrel sections and weaken more than 1,000 widebody jets in service.  

According to his attorneys in Katz Banks Kumin LLP in Washington, Salehpour worked on the 787 from 2020 to early 2022. He warned the faults “may dramatically reduce the life of the plane.” The claims are denied by Boeing. On a conference call with reporters and his lawyers, the engineer alleged Boeing did not follow its own engineering rules in a desperate drive to reduce the plane backlog and get them to market.  

Since a fuselage panel blew off a relatively new 737 Max 9 shortly after takeoff on Jan. 5, the planemaker has been under severe scrutiny for its manufacturing and quality methods. As 737 output remains low under FAA oversight, the claims focus on the Dreamliner, Boeing's main revenue source.  

After the allegations surfaced, Connecticut Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal invited Boeing's departing CEO Dave Calhoun to an April 17 subcommittee meeting on safety culture. Last month, Calhoun indicated he will resign by year's end as part of a management shakeup after the Jan. 5 disaster.

When asked if Calhoun or other executives would testify, Boeing said it understood the subcommittee's oversight role and was cooperating. “We have offered documents, testimony, and technical briefings and are discussing next steps with the subcommittee.”  

Boeing denied Salehpour's claim in separate responses. After finding microscopic structural defects in the connections where the carbon-fiber barrel pieces are put together, the manufacturer paused 787 deliveries for nearly two years earlier this decade under FAA supervision.  

These claims about the structural integrity of the 787 are inaccurate and do not represent the comprehensive work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and long-term safety of the aircraft,” Boeing said in a statement after the New York Times reported the allegations Tuesday.

Boeing said its experts are “completing exhaustive analysis to determine any long-term inspection and maintenance required, with oversight from the FAA.” The latest claims hurt Boeing as it struggles with a trust crisis after the Jan. 5 panel outburst. While nobody was wounded on that trip, Boeing's manufacturing and safety practices have been criticized and senior management has been restructured. Investors were shaken by the turmoil.  

Boeing lost 1.9% Tuesday, increasing their year-to-date decline to roughly 32%, the worst on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Salehpour will explain manufacturing shortages he witnessed at the April 17 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing. Blumenthal and Ron Johnson, the panel's senior Republican, wrote to Calhoun on March 19 requesting Boeing's “immediate cooperation” in reviewing Salehpour's accusations.  

Salehpour's attorneys wrote a Jan. 19 whistleblower letter to the FAA. His attorneys stated the agency investigated and interviewed Salehpour and other whistleblowers. “Voluntary reporting without fear of reprisal is a critical component in aviation safety,” the FAA added. “We urge aviation professionals to share information. We analyze all reports thoroughly.”  

Boeing denied his attorney's claim that 787 Dreamliners have shorter commercial lifespans. The company said thorough fatigue testing, including forces 10 times the production limit, corroborated the finding.  

Salehpour complained to Boeing management but was ignored and transferred to the 777 program. He claims to have witnessed inappropriate production techniques when the planemaker removed a defective robotic system without reworking the parts for the new assembly procedure. Boeing stated the claims were false in another statement. The company said, “We are fully confident in the safety and durability of the 777 family.”  

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