Boeing workers still scared to raise safety concerns, say FAA-appointed experts

Lauren Rosenblatt, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

After spending a year interviewing Boeing employees and executives, documenting the company’s safety processes and taking stock of changes Boeing made after two deadly 737 Max crashes, an expert panel determined the company has much more work to do.

Among its many findings, the panel concluded Boeing employees fear retaliation if they speak up about safety concerns, aren’t sure how they fit into the company’s broader safety management system, and lack confidence that changes would be made if they do make suggestions.

Boeing’s safety culture needed to substantially change to keep up with “the public interest in aviation safety,” the 24-member panel found in its report, which was released in February and presented to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday. The panel described a “disconnect” between what Boeing senior management said about safety and how Boeing frontline employees felt it was prioritized at the company.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing with three members of that Federal Aviation Administration-appointed panel to determine what else federal regulators should do to ensure Boeing aircraft are safe to fly. That hearing coincided with testimony offered by whistleblowers testifying before a Homeland Security Senate subcommittee, during which one former Boeing engineer described what he termed a “criminal cover up” by the company.

Tracy Dillinger, a member of the panel and manager for safety culture and human factors at NASA, told members of Congress on Wednesday that a company like Boeing could recover “from a catastrophic loss” but it would take a bigger focus on safety.

“It’s about trust, it’s about communication, it’s about being there [and] having a workforce that comes in, that’s trained, that’s energetic, that’s curious, that’s dedicated,” Dillinger said. “An organization can recover … by pulling all those resources together and focusing on the mission and how everybody works together.


“But to do that, all these parts have to come together with safety as a priority.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, who chairs the Commerce Committee, said the expert panel’s 53 recommendations serve as “an important catalyst” for future aviation legislation. Cantwell pointed to legislation that has already been passed and legislation still under consideration — namely the FAA reauthorization bill — but said she doesn’t want to stop there.

But Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, cautioned against Congress “legislating just to legislate.”

Boeing said Wednesday it will “take the FAA review panel’s detailed assessment to heart and will act on their findings and feedback.”


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