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Senators Call for ‘Detailed’ Investigation Into Boeing

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Boeing faces increasing pressure from Washington to reform its safety and manufacturing protocols after allegations of problems with the structural integrity of the 787 and 777 became public.

Senators are calling for a broader investigation into Boeing’s safety and manufacturing practices after a whistleblower alleged issues with the structural integrity of the 787 Dreamliner and 777. 

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“There are mounting serious allegations that Boeing has a broken safety culture and a set of practices that are unacceptable,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on investigations, during a hearing Wednesday on Boeing’s safety culture. 

The hearing featured testimony from Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour, who came out last week with allegations that the 787 and 777 were not assembled to code. 

Salehpour, who has worked at Boeing for more than a decade, claimed the plane maker took shortcuts in manufacturing the 787, saying he saw “people jumping on pieces of the airplane” to close the gaps on the fuselage. Gaps in the fuselage are supposed to be closed through a process known as shimming, where small pieces of material are used to fill in those gaps. 

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Salehpour’s testimony came on the heels of an interview with NBC News Tuesday in which  he called for the 787 to be grounded. 

An Appearance on Capitol Hill

At the Senate hearing, Salehpour doubled down on his claims. 

“I have analyzed Boeing’s own data to conclude that the company is taking manufacturing shortcuts on the 787 program that may significantly reduce the airplane safety and the life cycle,” he said at the hearing. 

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Boeing previously halted deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner in 2021 due to issues with the gaps in the fuselage. Salehpour is claiming that these issues still exist. 

“When you are operating at 35,000 feet, details that are the size of a human hair can be a matter of life and death,” Salehpour said. 

Boeing has refuted Salehpour’s claims, saying that it is fully confident in the 787 Dreamliner and 777.

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“In 13 years of service, the global 787 fleet has safely transported more than 850 million passengers on more than 4.2 million flights,” Boeing said in a statement. “A 787 can safely operate for at least 30 years before needing expanded airframe maintenance routines. Extensive and rigorous testing of the fuselage and heavy maintenance checks of nearly 700 in-service airplanes to date have found zero evidence of airframe fatigue.”

The U.S. plane maker held a two-hour long press conference earlier this week where it defended the production process of the 787 and 777. Boeing said that it has made changes to the manufacturing process of the 787, but they didn’t affect the durability or structural integrity of the aircraft. 

Salehpour said after raising concerns about the 787 with his manager, he was moved to the 777 program, where he observed that parts were not installed properly. 

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Boeing said it has taken steps to improve its culture since 2020. The company pointed to how it’s seen a 500% increase in employee reports through its “Speak Up” program — a safety management reporting tool that offers anonymity to employees — since January.

“Retaliation is strictly prohibited at Boeing,” Boeing said in a statement.

Boeing Faces Scrutiny From Washington

A growing chorus of senators have demanded more accountability from Boeing after Salehpour’s allegations and the Alaska Airlines incident where a door plug fell off a Max 9. 

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“We want and need Boeing to succeed. It is a company that once was preeminent in engineering and safety,” Blumenthal said. “We want to restore the luster of that reputation and its business, which have been so sadly battered.”

The Senate subcommittee has also called on Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun — who is set to step down at the end of 2024 — to testify. Calhoun was not present at the Wednesday hearing. 

“We expect the Boeing CEO to appear before us to tell the American people why the promises made five years ago by this company have not been fulfilled,” Blumenthal said. 

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Senator Ron Johnson, the ranking member of the investigations subcommittee, said there needed to be a “detailed” investigation of Boeing. 

“This investigation has to include not only Boeing, it’s got to include how airlines maintain Boeing products,” Johnson said, “but it’s also got to look at the FAA and government and where the government has potentially dropped the ball as well.”

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