US regulators open new review into Boeing after staff raise concerns

Company culture appears to ‘hamper staff communicating openly with FAA’, survey finds

The FAA action is the latest to look at Boeing’s safety practices following twin fatal crashes of the company’s 737 Max. Photograph: iStock

The FAA action is the latest to look at Boeing’s safety practices following twin fatal crashes of the company’s 737 Max. Photograph: iStock

 

US aviation regulators are opening a new review of Boeing Co after a survey of company engineers found a sizable percentage said they couldn’t raise safety concerns without interference.

A survey conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration from May through July found that 35 per cent of Boeing employees interviewed raised issues of conflicts of interest and a lack of independence, according to a letter to the company released by the agency on Tuesday. The letter, from the head of the FAA division overseeing the company, was dated August 19th.

The FAA action is the latest to look at Boeing’s safety practices following twin fatal crashes of the company’s 737 Max. The accidents, tied to a poorly designed flight-control system, led the plane to be grounded for 20 months and prompted multiple investigations.

“Boeing’s company culture appears to hamper members of the ODA unit from communicating openly with the FAA,” said the letter, which was obtained by Bloomberg. ODA refers to Organisation Designation Authorisation, the group within Boeing that is authorised to make safety decisions on behalf of the government and is supposed to remain independent.

“These concerns require an objective review and further fact finding,” said the letter, signed by Ian Won, the acting head of the FAA office that monitors Boeing.

‘They don’t listen and keep pushing’

The agency interviewed 32 Boeing employees out of about 1,400 involved in the ODA, the FAA said in an email. That meant 11 people voiced concerns.

Boeing’s ODA was a central issue in reviews of the Max crashes by Congress and other outside groups. Boeing employees signed off on the final design of the system implicated in the crashes after a redesign made it significantly more risky, the investigations found.

Earlier this year, Boeing agreed to pay $6.6 million (€5.6m) in civil penalties to the FAA over safety violations that included placing “undue pressure” on members of the ODA.

One Boeing employee interviewed by the FAA said other engineers at the company tried to apply pressure. “Yea, that happens all the time from design engineering. They don’t listen and keep pushing,” the unidentified person said in comments that were included in the letter.

None of the comments included in the letter alleged that violations of safety regulations or other laws had occurred.

Boeing has received the FAA’s letter and is working with the agency on the issue, the company said in an emailed statement.

“We take these matters with the utmost seriousness, and are continuously working to improve the processes we have in place to ensure the independence of the Organisation Designation Authorisation unit members,” the company said. – Bloomberg