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Boeing safety examined in US Senate, after whistleblower's revelations

The safety of Boeing's planes, which has frequently made headlines in recent months, must be examined on Wednesday April 17 in the US Senate, after revelations from a quality control engineer of the American manufacturer on the integrity of the 787 Dreamliner and the 777 .

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Boeing safety examined in US Senate, after whistleblower's revelations

The safety of Boeing's planes, which has frequently made headlines in recent months, must be examined on Wednesday April 17 in the US Senate, after revelations from a quality control engineer of the American manufacturer on the integrity of the 787 Dreamliner and the 777 .

A commission of inquiry organized this hearing after “obtaining information from a whistleblower concerning the Boeing group, accusing it of alarming and dangerous production failures “which create potentially catastrophic security risks””, write the Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal and Republican Ron Johnson, in a letter sent on March 19 to the boss of the aircraft manufacturer. The latter, Dave Calhoun, had been asked to participate in this hearing. But he does not appear in the list of witnesses released Monday.

“Boeing understands the importance of the commission’s responsibilities in terms of oversight and we are cooperating with this investigation,” the group reiterated for several days, claiming to have “offered to provide documents, testimony and technical briefings.” This hearing is being held after Sam Salehpour, a quality engineer at Boeing for around ten years, contacted the American Civil Aviation Regulatory Agency (FAA) regarding the safety of the Dreamliner and the 777.

He claims that the manufacturer has “repeatedly ignored serious concerns regarding safety and quality control in the construction of the 787 and 777,” according to a January 17 letter sent by his lawyers to FAA boss Mike Whitaker.

“Our client has identified significant areas of safety concern and has done everything possible to attract the attention of Boeing officials,” continues this letter, made public on April 9 after information published by the New York Times .

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Sam Salehpour explains that he noticed “shortcuts” in the Dreamliner assembly process which notably caused “deformation of the composite materials (...), which could alter wear performance in the long term”. Concerning the 777, he claims that “new assembly procedures” implemented without carrying out “the necessary redesign of the parts concerned resulted in poor alignment of the parts”. According to him, “Boeing engineers were pressured to turn a blind eye” while this “also constitutes a serious security risk”.

According to the New York Times, sections of the Dreamliner "are improperly attached together and could separate from each other in mid-flight after completing thousands of flights." Boeing immediately rejected these accusations. And, on Monday, he defended his methods and said he was “confident in the safety and durability of the 787 and 777,” during a briefing with two senior engineers. They disputed accusations that some 1,400 Boeing planes have significant safety flaws.

Following the alert launched by Sam Salehpour, the FAA opened an investigation into these two models. “We are thoroughly investigating all reports,” she reiterated Tuesday. But, according to her, all Dreamliners in operation “respect the AD”, the airworthiness directives. Now, three of the four commercial aircraft models currently manufactured by the American group are officially the subject of an investigation by the regulator. It examines the 737 family, Boeing's flagship aircraft, after an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 lost a door cap in flight on January 5. An FAA audit identified “non-compliance issues” at the manufacturer and its subcontractor Spirit AeroSystems.

The Alaska incident occurred in the wake of several production issues in 2023, involving the 737 MAX and the Dreamliner. Deliveries of the latter were suspended for almost two years, in 2021-2022. Then again at the beginning of 2023, for a fuselage problem. The 737 MAXs were grounded worldwide after the crash of two 737 MAX 8s in 2018 and 2019 (346 deaths), due to design defects.

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