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Boeing Accused of Hiding Dubious 737 Max Parts by Whistleblower

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WASHINGTON DC, USA – In a damning Senate subcommittee investigation revealed Tuesday, June 18, 2024, a Boeing employee has accused the company of concealing defective parts used in its 737 Max planes from federal regulators.

The whistleblower, Sam Mohawk, who works in Boeing’s quality assurance unit in Renton, Washington, claims that the company moved nonconforming parts out of sight and falsified records to avoid scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

According to Mohawk, Boeing lost track of many of these parts, which were likely installed in aircraft. Boeing acknowledged receiving the report from congressional investigators Monday evening.

“We are reviewing the claims,” the company stated. “We continuously encourage employees to report all concerns as our priority is to ensure the safety of our airplanes and the flying public.”

These allegations surface as Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun prepares for his first congressional hearing, where he will face scrutiny over multiple whistleblower claims regarding Boeing’s safety practices.

Calhoun, who is stepping down later this year, plans to apologize for recent safety failures and address issues within the company’s culture.

“Much has been said about Boeing’s culture. We’ve heard those concerns loud and clear,” Calhoun will say, according to prepared remarks released Monday.

“Our culture is far from perfect, but we are taking action and making progress. We understand the gravity, and we are committed to moving forward.”

Boeing has been under intense scrutiny since a January 5 incident involving an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max, which experienced a door plug blowout.

This incident, which left a significant gap in the plane’s fuselage, has further damaged Boeing’s reputation and has led to numerous federal investigations.

The FAA has mandated that Boeing address its safety issues before it can resume normal production, affecting airline operations and leading to higher fares for passengers due to delayed aircraft deliveries.

In prepared remarks, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat chairing the committee, criticized Calhoun for prioritizing profits over safety and allowing a culture of retaliation against employees who raised safety concerns.

“This is a culture that continues to prioritize profits, push limits, and disregard its workers,” Blumenthal stated.

“A culture where those who speak up are silenced and sidelined while blame is pushed down to the factory floor. A culture that enables retaliation against those who do not submit to the bottom line. A culture that desperately needs to be repaired.”

Blumenthal told CNN that his committee has heard from a dozen Boeing whistleblowers, including Mohawk.

“His allegations are extraordinarily serious,” Blumenthal said. “His account of the retaliation against him is particularly chilling the pressure that was exerted on him to stay silent. They have a program called Speak up well, he was told to shut up.”

The subcommittee’s investigation revealed that in June 2023, when the FAA planned to inspect Boeing’s Renton plant, the company instructed employees to relocate 60 nonconforming parts to avoid detection. Some parts were lost in the process. Additionally,

Mohawk claims that in August 2023, Boeing told employees to delete records about nonconforming parts, a directive he protested without any resulting action from the company.

The hearing, titled “Boeing’s broken safety culture,” is expected to focus on the systemic issues within Boeing that prioritize manufacturing speed and cost-cutting over safety. Calhoun will be joined by Howard McKenzie, Boeing’s chief engineer.

Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour testified in April that the company pressures employees not to report defects.

“I have serious concerns about the safety of the 787 and 777 aircraft, and I’m willing to take on professional risk to talk about them,” Salehpour said. “I was ignored. I was told not to create delays. I was told, frankly, to shut up.”

Calhoun’s prepared remarks will assert that Boeing prohibits retaliation and encourages employees to report safety issues.

“We are committed to making sure every employee feels empowered to speak up if there is a problem,” he will say.

“We also have strict policies in place to prohibit retaliation against employees who come forward. It is our job to listen, regardless of how we obtain feedback, and handle it with the seriousness it deserves.”

Despite the attention the hearing is expected to garner, aerospace industry experts like Richard Aboulafia of AeroDynamic Consultancy remain skeptical about significant changes at Boeing.

“Nothing has produced change (at Boeing) except frustration from a bunch of airline customers,” Aboulafia said. “I’m not sure what will change as a consequence of this. He (Calhoun) needs to go. He has shown a strong desire to double down on what’s bad.”

A preliminary investigation of the Alaska Airlines incident revealed that the plane left Boeing’s factory without the four bolts needed to secure the door plug.

Boeing has been criticized for failing to identify who installed the plug without the bolts, and this issue is expected to be addressed at the hearing.

Calhoun’s prepared remarks include apologies to the families of the 346 victims of the two fatal 737 Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, which led to a 20-month grounding of the jet. “We are deeply sorry for your losses,” he will say.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of the people who step on board our airplanes. Every day we seek to honor the memory of those lost.”

He will also apologize to the passengers and crew of the Alaska Airlines flight. “We deeply regret the impact that the Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 accident had on Alaska Airlines’ team and its passengers, and we are grateful to the pilots and crew for safely landing the plane,” he will say.

“We are thankful that there were no fatalities.”

This hearing could be Calhoun’s only appearance on Capitol Hill, as he has announced plans to retire by the end of the year. His successor has yet to be named.

In addition to congressional scrutiny, Boeing faces potential criminal liability from the original certification process of the 737 Max.

The January 5 incident occurred just days before the end of Boeing’s probationary period under a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement.

In May, the Justice Department notified Boeing that it is now subject to criminal prosecution. Boeing disputes that the Alaska Airlines incident violated the agreement and is contesting potential criminal liability in court.

Blumenthal indicated he would reserve judgment on Boeing’s criminal liability but noted the mounting evidence against the company.

“I think there is mounting evidence, perhaps overwhelming evidence now, that prosecution should be pursued,” he said.

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