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

Lauren Rosenblatt, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

“Since 2020, Boeing has taken important steps to foster a safety culture that empowers and encourages all employees to raise their voice,” a spokesperson said. “We know we have more work to do and we are taking action across our company.”

The expert panel’s report came weeks after another incident involving a Boeing plane reignited congressional calls for change at the company. In January, a piece of fuselage blew off a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the aircraft and reopening questions about the manufacturer’s process and attention to safety.

The report did not directly address the fuselage blow out, but the panelists said they considered safety incidents involving Boeing planes as they occurred.

For Javier de Luis, a member of the panel and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s department of aeronautics and astronautics, the topic of Wednesday’s hearing was also personal. His sister, Graziella de Luis Ponce, died in the 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash, the second fatal crash involving the Max plane in months.

Speaking Wednesday, de Luis said it seems the panel blow out prompted Boeing leadership to admit it must make changes, referencing recent comments Chief Financial Officer Brian West made to investors.

But, de Luis said, “I would have thought they would have gotten it five years ago.”


Self-certifying concerns

Much of the panel’s report and discussion on Wednesday centered around an FAA program that allowed Boeing to self-certify its own work. That program — Organization Designation Authorization, or ODA — was set up in 2005 and has been under scrutiny since the fatal Max crashes.

On a press call ahead of the hearing, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, said she believes the ODA program “needs to be relooked at” and that she wants to ensure the “bad actors are removed from that process within Boeing.”

The company’s ODA unit includes more than 1,000 people who conduct certain legally required tasks for the FAA, like inspections and design approval. The panel found Boeing had the appropriate framework in place for the process to work as it was supposed to, but that it fell short in implementation.


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