FAA Investigates Claims by Boeing Whistle-Blower About Flaws in 787 Dreamliner

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating claims by a Boeing engineer that sections of the 787 Dreamliner’s fuselage are loosely fastened together and could break apart in mid-flight after thousands of trips.

The engineer, Sam Salehpour, who worked on the plane, detailed his allegations in interviews with The New York Times and in documents sent to the FAA. A spokesperson for the agency confirmed it was investigating the allegations, but declined to comment on them.

Mr. Salehpour, whose resume indicates he has worked at Boeing for more than a decade, said the problems stemmed from changes in how the huge sections were assembled and fastened together in the assembly line. The plane’s fuselage is made up of several pieces, all from different manufacturers, and they don’t have exactly the same shape when assembled, he explained.

Boeing acknowledged these manufacturing changes had been made, but a company spokesman, Paul Lewis, said there was “no impact on the durability or safe longevity of the airframe.”

Mr. Lewis said Boeing had conducted extensive testing of the Dreamliner and “determined that this was not an immediate flight safety issue.”

“Our engineers perform complex analysis to determine whether there may be a long-term fatigue issue for the fleet in any area of ​​the aircraft,” Mr Lewis said. “This will not become an issue for the in-service fleet for many years, if ever, and we are not rushing the team so we can ensure the analysis is complete.”

In a subsequent statement, Boeing said it had “full confidence in the 787 Dreamliner,” adding that “these claims about the structural integrity of the 787 are inaccurate and do not represent the overall work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and the sustainability of the 787”. aircraft safety.

Mr. Salehpour’s allegations add another element to the intense scrutiny Boeing has faced since a door panel exploded on a 737 Max plane during an Alaska Airlines flight in early January, raising questions about company manufacturing practices. Since then, the aircraft manufacturer has announced a management overhaul and the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation.

Mr. Salehpour’s concerns should be voiced on Capitol Hill. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the investigative subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, plans to hold a hearing with Mr. Salehpour on April 17. Mr. Blumenthal said he wanted the public to hear directly from the engineer. .

“Repeated and shocking allegations of manufacturing failures at Boeing demonstrate an appalling absence of safety culture and practices, where profit takes priority over everything else,” Mr. Blumenthal said in a statement.

The Dreamliner is a more fuel-efficient widebody than many other planes used for long trips, thanks in part to its lightweight composite construction. First delivered in 2011, the twin-aisle plane has both racked up orders for Boeing and created headaches for the company.

For years, the aircraft maker has faced a succession of problems involving the plane, including battery issues that led to the temporary grounding of 787s worldwide and quality issues that more recently prompted a shutdown extended deliveries.

Boeing has also faced numerous problems at its South Carolina factory, where the Dreamliner is built. A prominent Boeing whistleblower who raised concerns about the plant’s manufacturing practices, John Barnett, was found dead last month from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Dreamliner was a pioneer in using large quantities of so-called composite materials rather than traditional metal to build the plane, including major sections like the fuselage, as the plane’s body is called. Often made by combining materials like carbon and glass fibers, composites are lighter than metals but, as relatively newer materials, less is known about how they hold up to long-term flight stresses . These stresses create what engineers call fatigue, which can compromise safety if it causes the material to fail.

Mr. Salehpour said he was repeatedly retaliated against for raising concerns about shortcuts he believed Boeing was taking in assembling the Dreamliner’s fuselage parts.

Debra S. Katz, Mr. Salehpour’s lawyer, said her client raised his concerns with supervisors and tried to discuss them in safety meetings, but company officials did not listen. . Instead, she said Mr. Salehpour was silenced and transferred to work on another wide-body aircraft, the 777. Mr. Salehpour said that after his transfer, he discovered additional problems in the how Boeing assembled the 777 fuselage.

“This is the culture that Boeing has allowed to exist,” Ms. Katz said. “This is a culture that prioritizes the production of aircraft and excludes them from the line even when there are serious concerns about the structural integrity of those aircraft and their production process.”

In its statement, Boeing said it encourages its workers “to speak up when problems arise” and that retaliation is “strictly prohibited.”

The FAA interviewed Mr. Salehpour on Friday, Ms. Katz said. In response to questions about the Dreamliner, Mike Whitaker, the agency’s administrator, reiterated that the regulator was taking a hard line on Boeing after the Alaska Airlines episode.

“This will not be a return to business as usual for Boeing,” Mr. Whitaker said in a statement. “They must commit to real and profound improvements. Making fundamental changes will require a sustained effort from Boeing leaders, and we will hold them accountable every step of the way. »

Mr. Salehpour said the shortcuts he believed Boeing was taking resulted in excessive force being applied to reduce unwanted gaps in connecting parts of the Dreamliner fuselage. He said the force caused deformation of the composite material, which he said could increase fatigue effects and lead to premature failure of the composite.

John Cox, a former airline pilot who runs a safety consulting firm, said that while composites tolerate excessive forces better than metals, it is harder to see that composites have been subjected to stress to the point to break. “They’re cracking,” he said.

“Catastrophic in-flight breakup, yes, that’s a theoretical possibility,” Mr. Cox said. “That’s why you would want testing done to prevent that.”

Boeing’s tests are an appropriate step, Mr. Cox said, because “if the degradation goes far enough, it could potentially lead to a catastrophic failure.”

Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.

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Sara Adm

Aimant les mots, Sara Smith a commencé à écrire dès son plus jeune âge. En tant qu'éditeur en chef de son journal scolaire, il met en valeur ses compétences en racontant des récits impactants. Smith a ensuite étudié le journalisme à l'université Columbia, où il est diplômé en tête de sa classe.Après avoir étudié au New York Times, Sara décroche un poste de journaliste de nouvelles. Depuis dix ans, il a couvert des événements majeurs tels que les élections présidentielles et les catastrophes naturelles. Il a été acclamé pour sa capacité à créer des récits captivants qui capturent l'expérience humaine.
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