Whistleblower Wants 787 Fleet Grounded


A Boeing engineer and whistleblower is calling for the grounding of all the more than 1,000 Boeing 787s for an issue Boeing says has been addressed and signed off on by the FAA. In an exclusive interview tonight on NBC Nightly News, Sam Salehpour says he’ll tell a Senate committee on Wednesday he believes the aircraft are in danger of coming apart because of out-of-spec gaps where major assemblies are joined. “The entire fleet worldwide, as far as I’m concerned right now, needs attention,” he told NBC’s Tom Costello. “And the attention is, you need to check your gaps and make sure that you don’t have potential for premature failure.”

Salehpour was an engineer on the Dreamliner program but has since been assigned to work on the 777. He went public with his warning last week, and Boeing was quick to discount it. “We are fully confident in the 787 Dreamliner. These claims about the structural integrity of the 787 are inaccurate and do not represent the comprehensive work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and long-term safety of the aircraft,” Boeing said in a statement last week. “The issues raised have been subject to rigorous engineering examination under FAA oversight.” The improperly shimmed gaps were first found more than five years ago, and the FAA stopped deliveries of the 787 while Boeing came up with a fix. The existing fleet at the time was inspected and repaired, and new aircraft were presumably built to spec.

Salehpour says those repairs were not adequate and there is a danger of fatigue failure. Boeing said the fix has been thoroughly vetted and “these issues do not present any safety concerns” or durability problems. It said it will be on the lookout for problems, noting it encourages employees to “speak up” about any safety concerns. “Retaliation is strictly prohibited at Boeing,” the statement said. The FAA says it is investigating the allegations.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. If reasonable men can agree to disagree can reasonable engineers agree to disagree?

    But then who gets to decide what and what is not reasonable?

    • History shows the debate in large companies like this is between the engineers and the accountants. Each may seem reasonable in their own world, but I would wager only one is likely to be intrinsically focussed on safety.

      • I’ve seen them between engineers, usually with an age and experience difference of about 40 years. After a lengthy failed attempt to impart additional wisdom to the other, the wise one dejectedly retreats to his cubicle muttering, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” It’s amusing to see how quick the public is to accuse the engineer of cutting corners, or bungling a safety analysis, or not doing one, all based on the speculative publishings of a news reporter who has never been allowed even a peep through the fence into Boeing’s inner workings.

  2. If the “Boeing Engineer and Whistleblower” is so smart he should recommend an inspection procedure and Service Bulletin. The system is in place to correct faulty or failing equipment.

    Probably not enough money involved just following standard practices? Interviews and public appearances pay pretty good they say.

  3. All we need now is just one little hiccup involving a 787 and the fleet in the flying public’s mind is toast.

  4. When two parties are at a loggerhead and continue to disagree, it would seem that a mediator might be able to resolve the issue. While it is easy to blame one side or the other for being “bad” or “wrong”, both sides need to be given the benefit of their positions being valid. Which leads to their needing a mediator to evaluate their claims and lead to a mutually agreed upon solution.

    • We’re not talking about a family squabble here. Where would a mediator with the expertise be found? And is that not what the FAA proports to be? If they approved it, it should go no further. If these whistleblowers are allowed to blow their horns in public, they should be thourouly vetted in public. Their background, position in the process, their work record and as many ask for pilots, their mental condition. We’re not talking about one person against one company here, his claims are causing distrust in the entire system effecting millions of people. When these types are allowed to go public, we all know what happens when the news media gets involved.

  5. I recall the Challenger investigation and physicist Richard Feynman receiving communications from the engineers who were not in favor of launching on such a cold morning due to issues with the solid boosters. I’ll need to re-read Feynman’s account, but the Boeing engineers may have a point. I suppose we will see…

  6. Boeing can’t say it but I can. Just another disgruntled employee that didn’t get his way. Likely a problem child that interrupted the routine in every way. Hence’d, moved out of the group. He made it to NBC and I’m sure the network “Aviation expert” will solve the issue. Every company has a few of these types. Whistleblower protection may be considered a good thing to some but can also be used as a weapon by insecure employees. Keep that in mind.

    • Well, if the “whistle-blower” is wrong:
      1. The headlines containing bombastic claims will go viral. Boeing placed under microscope.
      2. Public will assume it is all true without looking at the evidence.
      3. Investigations will reveal all is well and that the whistle-blower is wrong.
      4. The story containing this information will appear in a year or so on page 13B of several newspapers and as a side note during a talking-head news program at 11:00PM.
      5. Boeing’s reputation is irreparably harmed.

      If the whistle-blower is right:
      1. Boeing is toast.

      • I remember this issue of the retainers that hold the sections together. There was a complaint early in the program and was said to have been addressed and corrected,
        My guess is that the whistleblower’s fifteen minutes of fame was unsatisfying for him and that he wants more : (

  7. Seems like if Boeing has all their ducks in a row, then this should be easy to dismiss, get FAA to agree that there is no risk, and then dispatch the employee once it’s found that he was wrong- there have to be a few in the fleet that are grounded for other reasons and perhaps be inspected?

    When the whistleblower says ‘all’ of them need to be grounded it makes me pause and wonder how close is he to this issue.

  8. Boeing’s problem is one of credibility, they are proven liars known for coverups. The MCAS debacle is just the most glaring example, how many more are there? This lack of confidence will continue until top management is replaced by competent leaders.
    Other whistleblowers have been proven right, what if this on is also right?

    • Where is it proven they are liars? and are known for coverups?

      The fact is after the first MAX accident – at least partially due to dispatching an improperly maintained aircraft – Boeing distributed a bulletin to all operators describing cockpit affects and enumerated the published procedures.

  9. Before dismissing this engineer’s concern I highly recommend reading or at least skimming the addendum to the Challenger Report


    To assert that an engineer’s identification of a safety issue is invalid unless he offers a solution is simply absurd. The general practitioner sees the signs of potential cancer. He is not responsible for the full diagnosis nor the treatment plan. Rather , he is appreciated for recognizing the risk.

    • But the difference here is the SRBs had already been observed to have problems with the seals at the joints. It was known – and they kept flying. Have fatigue cracks already been observed in these 787 fuselage joints? I haven’t read that.

      Regarding the precision of engineering – there is a reason the ultimate load factor is a factor of 1.5 of the design load limit.

  10. With over 1000 airframes flying internationally and a design that is over 10 years old, I am skeptical of those amongst us who want to kick a man (Boeing) when he (it) is down. And even if against the odds here, the “blow-hard” is correct, Boeing is still worth saving. Not because it was once great or is now “too big to fail”, but rather because many of us and our brothers (and sisters) can live the lives we Americans live because Boeing “is”.

  11. What does the DATA say? Anyone? No one, and I mean absolutely NO ONE, is asking the correct questions. I am completely confident however, that a grade school flunky can convince the FAA that all is well and good to go. That bunch stopped having a clue long. long ago.

    • Sifting the wheat from the chaff has always required a trained hand and not an overnight skill. There will be issues uncovered and hand wringing as well as gnashing of teeth as someone once mentioned. We need to dig down and examine any discrepancies until confidence is established and then begin the climb out of the hole.

  12. As I recall, this particular whistleblower has been in the news before, something about being transferred due to his refusal to accept the Boeing & FAA acceptance of the “fit fix”.