Boeing Steps Up Quality Control, Invites Airlines Into Factories


The Seattle Times says Boeing says is beefing up its quality control efforts and allowing inspectors from airlines into its factories to examine its future aircraft in production. The moves come 10 days after a door plug separated from a 737 MAX 9 over Oregon and a week after the FAA grounded the fleet in a series of pointed announcements criticizing Boeing and saying it would not let the quality control issues continue. In a memo to all employees, Boeing VP for commercial airplanes Stan Deal said the blown-out door plug and the discovery of missing and loose bolts on other aircraft “make clear that we are not where we need to be.”

Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines had already determined that where it needs to be is on the shop floor where aircraft on order are being built and that it do its own review of Boeing’s quality control systems. It announced last Friday that it intended to do just that, and Boeing’s Monday announcement seemed to be in response to that. Boeing said it will also allow Alaska and other airlines to inspect work done by Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita where the MAX fuselages are built. FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker also piled on, saying the agency might hire third-party inspectors from a “technical nonprofit organization” to work in Boeing factories and report back.

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. Whoa! The statement from the FAA Administrator about considering the hiring of third-party inspectors from a technical organization for Boeing factories is indeed remarkable. And I’ll leave it like that. Zip!

  2. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late. The only question is, how long will it take them to understand that before real change occurs. It is what it is.

  3. I worked many years as a Manufacturing Engineer in an electronics production facility and one of the first rules of quality is that “Quality cannot be inspected in”. It can certainly be used to help FIND problems that have been made, but it is not the final answer. Boeing and Spirit will need to dig deep to improve their processes. Quality has to start with the initial design and be incorporated throughout the production line. Once something is made incorrectly or out of tolerance, correcting it becomes more expensive.

    Process and Quality engineers need to be involved at every level from design to rollout. Inspections should be used to correct the process issues causing defects, NOT to find defects and fix them after assembly. Rework is very expensive and a reworked item is often never as reliable as it was originally Finding defects in the airline industry after an accident can tragic and expensive.

    • Quality starts at the top; President, CEO, Board Room. If it’s not solidly in place at the top, I don’t care what you do, or, who you hire, it’s not going to work. Under its current leadership, Boeing is doomed to fail.

      • Correct. If upper management does not wholeheartedly support quality improvement efforts the line people will see that and follow suit and not take the efforts seriously. The CEO, President, or whoever is in charge should appoint an upper management type with a VP title or better, who reports directly to top guys and has the budget to get things done. This person’s sole responsibility should be the improvement of quality in measurable metrics. Unfortunately, QC people receive the least respect and funding in an organization and are often the first ones let go in a downturn.

  4. You can call me cynical, but this looks like a knee-jerk PR stunt to me. I would have preferred a more reasoned and sincere effort from Boeing, something that states that they are undertaking a full review of their QC processes, with independent oversight and assistance. In addition they will report back on progress and their findings and commit to a specific timeline on those progress reports. That’s taking ownership of the issue.

    Inviting customers to visit the factory is non-sensical. The people from the airlines are likely not qualified to review and understand Boeing’s QC process which will be deep and complicated. They can’t opine on the procedures and quality based on a few visits and truthfully any recommendations they might make aren’t exactly binding.

    This is lipstick on pig and I’m calling B.S. on this tactic.

    • From the linked article:

      The new measures Boeing announced Monday include moves to address the steps suggested by Whitaker and Alaska. They include:

      – Additional inspections throughout the build process at Boeing and at Spirit.

      – In-factory training sessions […] “to gather and refocus on the fundamentals” of the quality management system.

      – Boeing will bring in an outside party to thoroughly review its quality management system and suggest further improvements.

  5. McDonnel Douglas bought Boeing with Boeing’s money and this is the result. Replacing aircraft engineers and builders with financial people always looking at the bottom line.

    • McDonnell Aircraft bought Douglas in 1967 becaming McDonnell Douglas.

      McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997 and the name went away.

      • And at the time of the McDonnell Douglas merger, the DC-10 was already on the drawing boards. Looking after the DC-10, all aircraft that come out of McDonnell Douglas were derivatives of already existing Douglas aircraft. So the merged McDonnell Douglas never crated a new, clean sheet, commercial aircraft. Those executives took over most of Boeing after the merger.

  6. The only way to materially increase assembly quality in the short term would be a significant reduction in the monthly production rate. The problem is too few, too new, people on the shop floor being pushed to keep increasing the build rate so the C suite execs can pad their bonus payments because they met production targets.

    Slowing everything down would allow everybody to catch up, but that would impact the next few quarters revenue so it won’t happen. Everything you are hearing from Boeing is just corporate spin. Lots of handwaving and happy talk hoping that they can somehow weasel their way out of the hole they have dug for themselves

    What a sad end to what was the worlds leader in commercial aviation

  7. Is it even known yet who last installed the plug that departed the air plane? I seem to recall reading something about the plug perhaps needing to be removed when the seats are installed. Who installed the seats?

  8. Just issue a few rolls of Alien tape with each new airliner … problem solved. Recognizing that 100% redundancy is required, install a webbed strap over the door area on the inside over the opening in case the tape fails. Pay the managers a bonus for thinking it all up. Done. 🙂

  9. Can someone explain why an airline would order, and Boeing would sell, an airliner with less than the full design complement of emergency exits, even if not required by the FARs for the intended passenger load? What is the economic or other incentive to do so? It is a terrible choice from a liability standpoint.

    • Then that row has to follow all the safety procedures for an emergency exit row, including the extra leg room and restrictions on who can sit there.

    • The design requirements are to have enough exits to be able to evac in 90 seconds. More pax, more required exits.

      The ‘extra’ exit would be required if they packed the people in like sardines in order to gain a few extra seats. By sticking to the more magnanimous ‘cattle car’ arrangement, they can beat the 90 second clock with fewer doors.

  10. So why now? This was never a problem before for Boeing. Hint: many answers in the previous posts. It’s sad, really.

  11. What a mess for Boeing. We have no idea when the grounded planes will be released to fly again. The pressure from the bad press is going to force possible reality to be cast aside for a long time. No one is going to want to sign off on this, including FAA, until 100% plus safety assurance is proven.

  12. Am currently doing the Gleim Online IA Annual Refresher Course. Therein Study Unit 7 Human Factors In Aircraft Maintenance says that “the highest percentage of maintenance error was omissions. The majority of these omissions involved fasteners.” About 6% of all aircraft accidents are due to missing, improper and improperly tightened fasteners.

  13. Quality over profits – how dare you?!!

    Who has skin in the game at Boeing ownership? This, from Simple Flying “Who Owns Boeing Really?”:

    “Institutional investors own most of the company by a percentage of shares, approximately 61.67%, to be more precise. In 2019, such investors purchased the company shares worth $5.6 million. There are other shareholders in the company, including individuals and incorporations. Other top shareholders are Timothy J. Keating, Leanne G. Caret, Theodore Colbert, The Vanguard Group, Inc., and BlackRock, Inc.”

    Financiers only care for profits, if there’s a problem with the company, don’t they merely move the $ elsewhere?

    Our financial system is eating itself alive, IMO, and what happens is stuff like this. Oh the platitudes we heard after 78 Max! And now this.