FAA probes Boeing whistleblower's claims regarding safety of 787 jets

Sam Salehpour alleges the US plane maker overlooked concerns that could potentially affect aircraft's longevity

Boeing 787 aircraft undergo checks at the Everett Production Facility in Washington state. AP
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The US Federal Aviation Administration is investigating allegations raised by Boeing whistleblower Sam Salehpour, who claimed that the plane maker had overlooked safety and quality standards during the production of its 787 Dreamliner jets, which are popular among airlines for long-haul international flights.

According to a statement released by his legal team, Mr Salehpour, an engineer, had revealed issues that could compromise the strength and stability of the jets and reduce their longevity.

Mr Salehpour was moved away from the Boeing’s 787 programme and also faced termination threats after raising the safety concerns.

“These problems are the direct result of Boeing’s decision in recent years to prioritise profits over safety,” lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Rather than heeding his warnings, Boeing prioritised getting the planes to market as quickly as possible, despite the known, well-substantiated issues he raised.”

Quality issues and production flaws with the 787 jets prompted Boeing to suspend deliveries for more than a year until August 2022 as the FAA investigated the matter.

It was again paused for few weeks the following February over issues related to regulatory documents.

In 2021, the company said there were instances where the shims of some 787 jets were of inappropriate size. A shim is a thin material that is used to plug gaps in various parts of the aircraft during manufacturing.

The FAA interviewed Mr Salehpour on Friday, according to his lawyers.

“This won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing,” The New York Times quoted Mike Whitaker, thee FAA’s administrator, as saying.

“They must commit to real and profound improvements. 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.”

The FAA did not immediately respond to The National's request for comment.

However, in a statement, Boeing dismissed the allegations and said it was “fully confident in the 787 Dreamliner”.

“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,” it said.

Boeing shares closed at $178.12, down 1.95 per cent on the day to give the company a market capitalisation of $108.67 billion. The stock is down nearly 30 per cent since the start of the year.

The agency’s new investigation has added to the brewing woes of the aerospace company. It is facing heavy scrutiny by US regulators, with production being curbed as the plane maker attempts to resolve safety and quality issues, and win back customer confidence.

A series of incidents involving Boeing jets this year, including the in-flight blowout of a 737 Max 9 door plug of an Alaska Airlines plane, have forced airlines to re-examine their fleet-expansion plans amid slower production rates and delayed deliveries.

Two fatal crashes involving Boeing's 737 Max model resulted in a long grounding of its aircraft.

Boeing’s deliveries dropped in March quarter

The company’s deliveries dipped in the March quarter to the lowest point since mid-2021, Boeing announced on Tuesday.

Boeing delivered nearly 83 planes in the January-March period, about 36 per cent less than the prior year period. Out of these, 67 were 737 jets while 13 were 787 planes. This was 47 per cent less than the last quarter of 2023.

Last month, Boeing’s chief executive Dave Calhoun announced he would step down by the end of 2024 as part of a broad management restructuring.

“We will remain squarely focused on completing the work we have done together to return our company to stability after the extraordinary challenges of the past five years, with safety and quality at the forefront of everything that we do,” Mr Calhoun said that time.

Updated: April 09, 2024, 8:11 PM