Boeing Subcontractor Subject Of Lawsuit Over QC Deficiencies


Weeks before a catastrophic incident involving a Boeing 737 MAX 9, workers had raised warnings about defective production procedures. Reporters at posted a story yesterday (Jan. 9) citing documents filed in federal court from workers at Spirit AeroSystems, the Boeing subcontractor that reportedly manufactured the door plug that departed a Boeing 737 MAX 9 on Jan. 5 over Portland, Oregon.

As part of the federal securities lawsuit, a Spirit employee allegedly told higher-ups about an “excessive amount of defects,” later telling a colleague he “believed it was just a matter of time until a major defect escaped to a customer.” According to the court filing, the company ignored the warnings.

Broadly, the lawsuit alleges that Spirit deliberately covered up systemic quality-control deficiencies, encouraged employees to underplay defects and retaliated against workers who spoke out about their safety concerns.

The complaints speak to Boeing’s allegedly insufficient oversight of subcontractors such as Spirit and the FAA’s inability to effectively regulate quality control. According to the Jacobin report, William McGee, former panel member advising the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and now a senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economics Liberty Project, said, “The FAA’s chronic, systemic, and longtime funding gap is a key problem in having the staffing, resources, and travel budgets to provide proper oversight. Ultimately, the FAA has failed to provide adequate policing of outsourced work, both at aircraft manufacturing facilities and at airline maintenance facilities.”

According to Jacobin reporters, Spirit received a $75 million public subsidy from the U.S. DOT in 2021 and reported greater than $5 billion in revenues in 2022. A class action lawsuit launched in May 2023 and amended in December claimed that Spirit management “concealed from investors that Spirit suffered from widespread and sustained quality failures. These failures included defects such as the routine presence of foreign object debris [FOD] in Spirit products, missing fasteners, peeling paint, and poor skin quality. Such constant quality failures resulted, in part, from Spirit’s culture, which prioritized production numbers and short-term financial outcomes over product quality.”

One quality control inspector reported in the court filings that management at Spirit was putting inspectors in “a very uncomfortable situation” by asking them to inaccurately record the number of defects. In an ethics complaint, the inspector wrote, “We are being asked to purposely record inaccurate information.” The inspector conveyed his concerns in a direct email to Spirit CEO, Tom Gentile, according to the complaint.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. We’ve had a lot of rain around here the last couple of days, but this sounds like falling footwear. One door plug improperly secured is an unfortunate anomaly which can show up in any complex mechanism. Finding multiple plugs under-torqued is a management failure. Finding a lawsuit filed by the workers addressing that management failure is a smoking gun.

    It’s easy to blame the chronically underfunded FAA for its lack of oversight, but QC is really Boeing’s job, and probably ultimately Boeing’s fault. Why do I suspect that Boeing was constantly pressuring Spirit to produce “more, faster, cheaper”, and was not constantly monitoring Spirit’s QC?

    The only question I have at this point is, who was the last one to touch those door plug bolts? Supposedly, an A/V contractor had the doors off to run wiring, but I seriously doubt that they were responsible for R&Ring the doors.

    And would someone please tell the bubble-headed bleached blonds that come on at five, that a “cabin press” light that comes during taxi, and can be reset, is hardly a smoking gun pointing at the door plugs?

    • I know where you got “bubble headed bleach blondes” from. 😉
      You raise a very good question about who last worked on that door plug.
      One big problem here that I haven’t seen mentioned is that Boeing can’t just walk away from Spirit and hire another contractor quickly. There aren’t that many companies (if any) that can take over. Boeing/Spirit Aerosystems are joined at the hip.

      • You think? I mean, just drop back a few years and what is Spirit today was Boeing in Wichita then! Those damn Beancounters got us again!

  2. This is a union shop, isn’t it? QA/QC procedures are defined by industry standards, eg ISO 9001. But they and FAA regulations mean nothing if they are not engrained within company culture. More government funding is not going to prevent human shortcomings, but more Bible study will.

  3. Companies discarding a culture of professional pride and responsibility and putting profit over safety is today’s reality. The only constraints remaining on dangerously poor workmanship are the threat of litigation and oversight by supervisors. Apparently, that last bit has been corrupted, and pride in workmanship is a thing of the past. Certainly, the old fashioned concept where you presented something to your supervisor with the aim of impressing that person with the quality of your workmanship is no longer the norm.
    If you constantly underfund the final step in ensuring the safety process is robust, this is what you get and only by the grace of God does a 12 year old boy or baby in her mother’s lap not go flying out the door.

  4. I wrote this last week about Boeing. “I lost trust in Boeing after watching a video showing what was done to the fuselage bulkheads being outsourced to a cheapy company. This problem is related to the -300 on up to the -800s. It’s an old problem that nobody talks about anymore. Serious stuff. Long story short, the outsource company was making the holes on the bulkheads with manual drills! Regular joe with a power manual drill making holes that must be made by CNC machines so that when sections of the fuselage get to be joined to each other the holes align perfectly. There are many ADs that mention the “cracks” on the fuselage skin in “various” parts of the fuselage. The ADs words are funny to say the least. It mentions; “look around” because it is hard to predict where the cracks will pop. LOL. Wonder why! holes made with manual drill! posing tremendous stresses in different parts of the fuselage due to “manual” tolerances! LOL. Management at Boeing has had serious problems since then and now. Well, it shows up, doesn’t it? It’s out there for anyone to see. This was scandalously deflagrated by internal management people. I forgot the name of the woman going after the problem. She paid a visit to the outsource company to see how they were doing to bulkhead and voila!”
    Here we go. Nothing has changed. Boeing is repeating the same mistake again. FAA is part of the process, and of course they are trying to blame the outsource company. The same old, all over again. NO I don’t trust anything Boeing does.

  5. According to the (respected) Blancolirio Youtube channel, Juan Brown asserts that the door plug was removed well after the fuselage was delivered in order to provide access to the aircraft interior for the final installation of seats etc as specified by the delivery customer. If so, whoever reinstalled the plug door bears the responsibility – not Spirit.

    • I agree. There are a number of times that plug would have been removed for various activities. It is not a part that is installed and forgotten about (as in a regular fuselage panel). I would look to the maintenance procedures (AMM possibly) to see if there are inspection intervals, what the process is for installing, and then check the internal procedures for said inspection and install. This does not sound like a manufacturer issue but an upkeep issue. Look at the airlines procedures and track their actions as well.

      • The airplane was only in service two months, so I doubt there was any maintenance done involving this door. This is on Boeing.

    • I suspected something like this may have been the answer. If something removable unintentionally removes itself, it’s often a case of “Who touched it last?”

    • Agree. If Boeing removed the door plug then the onus is on THEM. Especially on the 737 Max, I’m surprised at the amount of problems that keep cropping up year after year. Particularly on this aircraft Boeing seems to have lost its way. As a retired A&P If I’m the last to work with something AND I sign it off then any mistakes are on me.

    • Looking at the available images, there are two possible points of failure. The system that aligns the door with the stops have four bolts, and it would likely take all four falling out or cracking to allow the door to drop and depart.
      But some of the other pictures seem to show that the lugs into which the door fastening hardware attached had obviously poorly installed bold; these parts are on the airframe proper. Could they be missed by someone whose sole job was R&R’ing a door? Yep. Or worse, seen but ignored.
      Of course, we could have a mix of all of the above. That would be a major management failure.

  6. From all of the comments, photos, and a door plug diagram I observed 2 days ago, there seems to be a simple solution. Yes, the proper torque to the existing bolt design of a door plug is necessary by the last person to close the fusalage access portal, no question.

    However, when I saw the door plug diagram, with 12 contact points, it was rather surprising to see 3 sides of the plug had contact points with the door frame. YET THERE ARE NO CONTACT POINTS (BOLTS OR ANCHOR PLATE) ON THE TOP OF THE DOOR PLUG, which is the direction of movement to remove the door, by design!

    Having never seen the design heritage of said airframe door plugs for the last 65 plus years, the inclusion of 2 additional anchor bolts today might address an engineering omission indicated by this current MAX 9 event.

    OR perhaps previous generations of door plugs DID HAVE 14 contact points on ALL 4 SIDES yet there was an design change by Boeing, and approved by the FAA, which removed the top 2 anchor bolts to secure a pressure door plug on only 3 sides.

    Does anyone have further details of “12 anchor points” vs “14 anchor points” for these aircraft door plug designs over the last 65+ years?

    The answer to this question will be quite interesting…..IMHO

    • There can’t be anything at the top as the door has to move up to open. If there was a single bolt of four installed, it would never move and never open.

  7. Several years ago, I bought a couple of “Boeing” T-Shirts. Sadly, in light of Boeing’s recent issues, I’m too embarrassed to wear those T-Shirts in public. Hopefully, a once great company hasn’t been destroyed by the D.E.I. Culture Warriors.

    • It’s worth mentioning, especially for those concerned about diversity, that error trends at Boeing existed long before the implementation of DEI initiatives.

  8. DEI initiatives go way back long before the term DEI came into being.

    In the early 2000’s, as an employee of Lockheed, we middle aged white males were put on notice that the company had been given direction to increase the rate of participation by other genders and races.

  9. Yup, DEI initiatives go back a few decades. They may have been inspired by pivotal legislative actions like the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Or Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces. Slow train comin’…