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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

FAA investigating whether Boeing falsified 787 inspection reports

A logo is emblazoned on a pilot’s seat in the cockpit of a Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner.  (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)
By Lori Aratani Washington Post

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that it is investigating whether Boeing employees may have skipped key inspections of certain 787 Dreamliner aircraft and falsified reports to say the work was completed.

The agency said Boeing voluntarily disclosed the issue last month, telling regulators that inspections of areas of the jet where the wings join the fuselage may not have been done as required. It said Boeing said it is reinspecting all 787 aircraft in production and that Boeing will be required to develop a plan to address planes in service that might not have received full inspections.

Word of a new FAA investigation comes as the aerospace giant is scrambling to reassure skeptical lawmakers and regulators that it will address the myriad safety concerns and breakdowns that have emerged in the wake of the midair blowout in January aboard a 737 Max jet operated by Alaska Airlines. That accident has spawned multiple federal probes, including a criminal investigation by the Justice Department and a high-profile leadership shake-up that will see the departure of David Calhoun, the company’s chief executive, at the end of the year.

“As the investigation continues, the FAA will take any necessary action – as always – to ensure the safety of the flying public,” the agency said in a statement Monday.

In a statement, Boeing said the missed inspections do not present an “immediate safety of flight issue” for aircraft in service. The company emphasized that it voluntarily disclosed the issue to regulators.

In a memo provided by Boeing that was sent last week to employees, Scott Stocker, a company vice president and general manager of the 787 program, said that an employee saw what appeared to be an “irregularity in required conformance test in wing body join.” That employee reported the issue to his manager, who brought it to the attention of executive leadership.

After investigating, Stocker said that several people had been violating company policies by not performing required tests, but reporting they had been completed. He said Boeing is taking “swift and serious corrective action with multiple teammates.”

He added in the memo that the company’s engineering teams have determined that the skipped inspections did not create a safety issue.

Word of the investigation comes just weeks after Sam Salehpour, a Boeing quality engineer, said he faced retaliation from his supervisors after raising concerns about whether fuselages of some 787 Dreamliner jets were properly fastened. Salehpour’s concern was that methods used to eliminate tiny gaps in fuselage sections could reduce the life span of the jets. In the worst-case scenario, the planes could break apart midflight, he said.

Salehpour and other whistleblowers testified before a Senate subcommittee April 17.

Boeing disputed Salehpour’s allegations. It has said it stopped delivery of the popular wide-body jets for nearly two years after other employees raised concerns about small gaps between sections of fuselage in late 2020. It said its engineers had completed extensive tests to determine the structures would not fail prematurely.