Boeing news: FAA finds aircraft maker's culture included safety 'gaps,' fear of retaliation

ByChris Isidore and Gregory Wallace, CNN, CNNWire
Tuesday, February 27, 2024
FAA finds Boeing culture included safety 'gaps,' fear of retaliation
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a report Monday sharply critical of the safety culture at Boeing.

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Aviation Administration issued a report Monday sharply critical of the safety culture at Boeing, following two fatal crashes and several years of safety and quality issues at the troubled aircraft maker.

Despite Boeing's repeated claims of its commitment to safety procedures, the report by a panel of industry experts said it did not find "objective evidence of a foundational commitment to safety that matched Boeing's descriptions of that objective."

Some Boeing employees did not understand their role in safety and feared retaliation for raising safety-related concerns, according to the report by federal safety experts.

The panel, created after fatal Boeing 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019 but before the recent incident in which a door plug blew out the side of an aircraft, found "gaps in Boeing's safety journey."

It also identified "hesitation in reporting safety concerns for fear of retaliation" because of management conflicts of interest and said confusion about the safety programs "may discourage employees from submitting safety concerns."

Boeing said in a statement to CNN that it has "taken important steps to foster a safety culture that empowers and encourages all employees to share their voice. But there is more work to do."

"We will carefully review the panel's assessment and learn from their findings, as we continue our comprehensive efforts to improve our safety and quality programs," Boeing's statement said. It also included a quote from CEO Dave Calhoun that urged "all teammates to use their voices to speak up."

But the report documented a "disconnect between Boeing's senior management and other members of the organization on safety culture."

SEE ALSO: Boeing replaces Ed Clark, leader of 737 Max program, in wake of midair incident

The panel was made up of Federal Aviation Administration officials and representatives from airlines, labor unions and safety units at other aerospace companies. Its work included conducting more than 250 interviews and reviewing more than 4,000 pages of documents and focused on both safety culture and the FAA program that delegates some aircraft certification work to Boeing employees.

The panel was not charged with reporting on any specific incident involving Boeing aircraft.

"However on several occasions during the expert panel's activities, serious quality issues with Boeing products became public. These quality issues amplified the expert panel's concerns that the safety-related messages or behaviors are not being implemented across the entire Boeing population," the report said.

In particular, it found Boeing repeatedly revised its Safety Management System - or SMS - manual, which is supposed to guide employees on procedures they should follow to insure planes are safe. But the panel said despite a wholesale re-write of the manual in recent years, it found "many Boeing employees did not demonstrate knowledge of Boeing's SMS efforts, nor its purpose and procedures."

The panel recommended the company re-work safety procedures so that they can be "clearly understood and followed by employees at all levels of Boeing."

Certain Boeing employees are delegated special FAA powers allowing them to make decisions that go against Boeing's interest. Some of those employees told the panel that Boeing managers treated them differently, sometimes re-assigning them. And while the company has made some changes to deter retaliation, the report said the current structure "still allows opportunities for retaliation to occur," including decisions regarding salary.

That unit - the Organization Designation Authorization team, or ODA - is also losing key experience due to employees leaving or retiring, the report said.

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