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Before Boeing CEO hearing, Senate releases new claims of 737 Max fraud

Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun's Tuesday testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee was already expected to be a hot, uncomfortable reception for him. Now it seems set to be a roasting.

Late Monday, the Democratic majority on the subcommittee released a 200-page document to the press containing allegations from a new Boeing whistleblower alleging manufacturing fraud and deception at the 737 Max final assembly plant in Renton, Washington.

The document also gathered allegations from whistleblowers who had previously gone public and added new documents in support of those earlier claims.

The documents were released by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee, which is holding the hearing — entitled “Boeing’s Broken Safety Culture” — for which Calhoun has been called to testify.

The major new allegation is from current Boeing employee Sam Mohawk, a quality assurance inspector at the Max final assembly plant in Renton.

A week ago, Mohawk filed an aviation whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor detailing his claims and alleging retaliation by Boeing managers against him for raising the issues internally.

Mohawk is a quality assurance inspector whose job is to oversee the handling of nonconforming parts, meaning parts that are defective or not adequately documented.

Such parts, marked with a red tag or red paint, are supposed to be separated into a secure area to ensure they are not installed on airplanes.

Mohawk alleges that, when the grounding of the Max that followed the two fatal crashes five years ago was lifted, the number of reports of defective or improperly documented parts increased threefold and many such parts were lost in the system.

Explosively, he alleges that in June 2023, after Boeing received notice of an FAA audit, managers “ordered the majority of the parts that were being stored outside to be moved to another location to intentionally hide improperly stored parts from the FAA.”

He states that approximately 60 parts were being stored outdoors, including 42 rudders for the Max tail fin.

He further claims that the overwhelming number of defective or inadequately documented parts “eventually led his superiors to direct him and others to eliminate or ‘cancel’ the records that designate a part as nonconforming.”

Mohawk’s complaint states that during an August 2023 meeting, the head of Boeing‘s Material Review Board for the 737 Max program “reiterated his order for everyone to cancel and delete NCRs (nonconformance reports), and not to keep a written record of nonconforming parts.”

When he filed an internal company complaint through Boeing’s “Speak Up” process, his complaint about this management pressure was passed for assessment to the managers he’d complained about, Mohawk alleges.

In addition to Mohawk’s claims, the Senate subcommittee document reiterates similar complaints by former Boeing quality manager Merle Meyers, who left Boeing last year and in April shared allegations with The New York Times similar to those from Mohawk.

The subcommittee memo adds a previously unpublicized internal form Meyers says was used to illegally authorize the return of nonconforming parts to the main assembly line to be installed on airplanes.

One such form has a justification scribbled on it for going ahead to use the parts that had been sent to the separate area for not conforming to the specification: “Parts were sent in error. Engineering has a possible rework plan. These are $41,000 each and takes 18 months to get replacements.”

 

The subcommittee memo also reiterates the very similar allegations going back to 2017 from John Barnett, the whistleblower from Boeing South Carolina who died by suicide in March.

In addition, the memo cites Seattle Times reporting from 2019 about Boeing’s plan, later largely dropped, to eliminate up to 900 quality inspector positions in the Puget Sound region and let mechanics inspect their own work.

The memo contains an FAA letter from two years later rebuking Boeing for major elements of its quality inspection process.

That May 2021 letter states that auditors found, among other missteps:

—The 777X program in Everett “did not meet FAA regulatory requirements for inspection.”

—Boeing’s process to oversee manufacturing of the 787 Dreamliner had removed required quality inspections.

—Boeing delegated inspection authority to manufacturing personnel who did not have appropriate training or certification.

In a release of his prepared remarks that will open Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Blumenthal calls this evidence of “a culture that continues to prioritize profits, push limits, and disregard its workers, a culture where those who speak up are silenced and sidelined.”

Blumenthal intends to tell Calhoun that, “Instead of asking what has caused Boeing’s safety culture to erode, you and your colleagues in the C-suite have deflected blame, looked the other way, and catered to your shareholders instead.”

Boeing did not respond to the memo Monday evening. But earlier the company had released Calhoun’s prepared remarks.

Calhoun plans to say that Boeing is looking “comprehensively at our quality and manufacturing systems” and that “we are committed to making sure every employee feels empowered to speak up if there is a problem.”

“Our culture is far from perfect, but we are taking action and making progress,” he plans to testify.

With the release of the new and reiterated whistleblower allegations, it’s clear he will face a harsh audience in Blumenthal and his colleagues.

Also attending Tuesday’s hearing, adding to the tough reception for Calhoun, will be family members of those who died in the two deadly Max crashes in 2018 and 2019.

In a statement Monday, Zipporah Kuria, who lost her father in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, said she flew from England to Washington, D.C., to hear in person what Calhoun has to say about any safety improvements at Boeing.

“I also continue to press the U.S. government to hold Boeing and its corporate executives criminally responsible for the deaths of 346 people,” she said. “We will not rest until we see justice.”


©2024 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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