FAA panel finds Boeing safety culture wanting, recommends overhaul

Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

A Federal Aviation Administration-commissioned report issued Monday is highly critical of Boeing's safety culture and makes more than 50 recommendations to bring it up to the required legal standards consistent with "the public interest in aviation safety."

The report, written by a panel of independent aviation experts, cites "a disconnect" between Boeing's senior management and front-line employees with respect to safety oversight.

Javier De Luis, a member of the expert panel with a deeply personal stake in Boeing safety culture — in 2019, his sister Graziella died in the second 737 Max crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 — said the report's most disturbing finding is this gap "between the messaging coming out of the executive offices and what is being believed and heard at the working level, at the assembly line level, at the engineering level."

Boeing's leadership issues statements to the public and its employees asserting that safety is the top priority and that employees can speak up about safety issues without fear.

"They're hearing the words but they're not believing," said de Luis in an interview. "There's a lot of work to be done before what is being said at the top is believed."

De Luis, an aerospace lecturer at MIT, conceded that his sister's death makes him "not an impartial observer," but added that as an engineer he stuck to the data and that all the recommendations in the report are based on evidence the panel found, not on feelings.


The report states the panel "observed inadequate and confusing implementation" of Boeing's efforts at bolstering its safety culture.

It focuses particularly on how Boeing manages engineering employees who conduct internal oversight on behalf of the FAA, work that is delegated to Boeing by the safety agency.

More than 1,000 such Boeing employees are legally required to have "a commitment to safety above all other priorities."

However, the panel flags concern that those employees may be fearful of raising safety issues that cause delays in certification or production, stating that the jetmaker's internal safety reporting systems may not function "in a way that ensures open communication and non-retaliation."


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