FAA Gives Boeing 90 Days To Establish A Quality-Action Plan

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Boeing now has 90 days to present a comprehensive action plan to resolve what the Federal Aviation Administration cites as “systemic quality-control issues.” Today (Feb. 28), FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker cut in half yesterday’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) six-month mandate for developing an action plan to achieve “substantive upgrades” in Boeing’s quality and safety systems. The NTSB recommendation was part of its preliminary report on an Alaska Airlines incident, where four bolts in a fuselage door plug of a Boeing 737 MAX 9 were never reinstalled after preproduction fuselage repair work by Boeing employees, resulting in the door plug departing the aircraft in flight.

Administrator Whitaker’s statement added that Boeing’s efforts at improving quality control must consider information to be gleaned by an ongoing production-line audit by the agency, as well as the findings from an expert panel review commissioned by the FAA and released yesterday. Also, the FAA mandates action on completing the Safety Management System initiative Boeing formally launched in 2019. Of note, the FAA announced Boeing would be responsible for ensuring the SMS be integrated with its Quality Management System and that efforts must mandate “the same level of rigor and oversight” among its suppliers, such as Spirit AeroSystems, which manufactures the 737 MAX fuselages. The long-term objective, according to the FAA, is creating “a measurable, systemic shift in manufacturing quality control.”

At an all-day meeting with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and members of his senior safety staff yesterday, Whitaker advised the Boeing team of his action. After the meeting, as reported in the Seattle Times, Whitaker said, “Boeing must commit to real and profound improvements. Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way, with mutually understood milestones and expectations.”

In a statement today, Boeing’s Calhoun said, “Boeing will develop the comprehensive action plan with measurable criteria that demonstrates the profound change that Administrator Whitaker and the FAA demand.”

Mark Phelps
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.

37 COMMENTS

  1. In the world of AVweb commenters and our sarcastic style, there’s a bit of hope that our clever jokes might actually make Boeing and the FAA up their game. Even though some folks are playfully saying, “Boeing is toast,” deep down, everyone wants things to get better. They truly think that even this 90-day challenge could be a chance for good things to happen. So, as the keyboard pilots fire off their witty comments like a squadron of Sopwiths on a mission, there’s a little bit of optimism that their humor might help make Boeing safer and stronger. So, ready, set, go!

    • Coming up with a solution in 90 days isn’t going to change what took decades to screw up. It’s not going to happen with the current approach. There’s a whole lot of soul searching on a federal level that has to take place and a lot of back pedaling. That’s not going to happen. At least not now in the current environment.

    • “So, ready, set, go!”

      As long as Boeing has an accountant as CEO, it’ll be more like “Ready, fire, aim!”.

  2. The US really needs Boeing and Boeing knows it, too big to fail. Push comes to shove and the courts will step in and save Boeing.

    • Don’t agree. Companies come and companies go. Kodak is a recent example of one going. The huge railway companies are another.
      And if Boeing does go, you can be sure someone will make aeroplanes, probably more efficiently than a company whose managers sit in a city without aeroplane factories.

    • I suspect it will be Congress and Administration rather than courts, but I’m afraid you are correct.

      JP’s option only exists once there is a sizable domestic competitor, and it seems to me there’s too many at the FAA working against that solution.

  3. 90 days is lightning speed for an organization as big as Boeing. Coming up with a plan is the easy part. Executing it can take years. What will happen when implementing the action plan conflicts with quarterly earnings statements?

  4. Sad to say that this is a reflection of what happens when you acquire a company and, in sort of a reverse acquisition, the executives from McDonnell Douglas end up dominating and remaking Boeing.

    Or as Harry Stonecipher, CEO of McDonnell Douglas and then CEO of Boeing from 2003 to 2005, said: “When people say I changed the culture of Boeing, that was the intent, so that it’s run like a business rather than a great engineering firm.”

    For more details see the interesting article in The Atlantic, “What’s Gone Wrong at Boeing”

    • Rob, thank you for suggesting the Atlantic article, ‘What’s Gone Wrong at Boeing.’

      The closing statement “Putting profit over product has been bad for Boeing’s products. The irony now painfully apparent is that it’s been bad for Boeing’s profits too.” holds a powerful impact as it captures a significant irony in Boeing’s approach. It serves as a distressing commentary on the potential pitfalls of compromising product integrity for immediate financial rewards.

      • What is happening to Boeing is what happens to all companies when they get into the social engineering business. Just ask Budweiser, or, Disney, or, Blackrock, or, Google, or,…………………………………….

          • It is what it is Raf. When you reduce the pool of applicants by whatever means you choose you reduce the chances of getting the brightest and the best because you are not out to select the brightest and the best. You are deliberately choosing to select by another criteria outside of the brightest and the best. The numbers don’t lie. It’s staring at you right in the face and you refuse to acknowledge. You’re problem not mine.

      • Raf, that’s the basic problem with anti profit rhetoric. It’s unclear what something like “putting profit over product” means.
        Wise people understand that choosing a quick buck over doing things right and taking care of customers is a bad idea. They also know it’s not more profitable in the long term.
        Fools learn the wrong lesson and rage against the obvious good of profit or even the utility of having currency.
        I don’t know about the situation at Boeing then or now, but I do know they would do a lot better with more market competition and less inappropriate government meddling. They should see the government as a referee and a partner in things like safety and ethical business practices, but not as partner in other business.
        Too many large corporations these days find their most important activities revolve around influencing government rather than pleasing customers.

        • I understand. Profit is important. However, it’s essential to strike a balance between profitability and responsible business practices.

          Haphazardly prioritizing short-term profits over responsible practices can have detrimental consequences for the public, employees, and ultimately, the company itself.

  5. People who know airplane manufacturing must be in place to sign off on those “…mutually understood milestones and expectations”, not just specialists in Safety Culture or Administrative Tasks.

  6. As I read this, it says they need to come up with a plan in 90 days. I didn’t see anything referencing when it needs to be implemented. They still have not finished their SMS program from 2019. They are their own worst enemy.

  7. When do we get serious, start at the top and relieve these guys of there job and for some their Golden Parachute. Large numbers of people have died because of current management culture. How many is to many??

  8. How long did Alaskan Airlines have this 737? I want to know what the FAA is doing about Alaska’s inspection program missing or pencil whipping the problems with this door plug. All I’ve read about is about Boeing.

    • I’m guessing that since the plane was delivered complete there was no way for Alaska to inspect the door fittings without removing parts of the interior. On their aircraft the plug is meant to be a permanent feature. They had no reason to believe that there was a problem.

      Do you expect a receiving customer to dismantle their brand new airplanes to make sure that they were manufactured correctly?

  9. “Coming up with a solution in 90 days isn’t going to change what took decades to screw up. ”

    Coming up with a solution and implementing the solution are two different things.

  10. Here is why this “quality initiative” will Not work, (as the FAA and Boeing would like us to believe). You simply cannot take “bead counters” and turn them into aviation experts and engineers. Until the experts are put back into executive positions, I absolutely guarantee this “band-aid” will fall off just as the last one did. Quality, Pride, Safety, all start at the top leadership. Currently there is no leadership at Boeing that the Engineers and Aviation experts can believe in. Shuffling “bean counters” will never solve the problem. Only empowering the Aviation tech experts, engineers, designers and specialist will.

  11. 90 days!!!!. Boeing raises its middle finger at the FAA. This site will soon begin documenting Boeing’s requested “delays” and there is no mention of The Hammer on what will happen to Boeing if they miss the 90 day mandate. I agree with everyone else. Move Boeing management back to SEA and put engineers back in charge. Cage the Bean Counters OR put them on the next green MAX that comes off the line for the initial certification flight.

  12. It’s unfortunate the FAA has put itself in a position of demanding Boeing do something in 90 days that they would likely need two years to complete themselves.

    There’s a lot of appropriate concern here over which types of experts to lead and how much priority is to be placed on money.

    I think the expertise that’s missing is leadership, and rather than money, the problematic paper is all those reams of it used for regulations to try to replace leadership and responsibility with process.

    Unfortunately, it’s not just the FAA and Boeing with these problems, and as much as I was able to sell expensive things in my career, I cannot seem to sell a solution to those things.

    I’ll keep trying.

  13. Okay, as of 11:00 AM mountain time, it will be illegal to use the term “bean counters” while keyboard lashing the Boeing Co.

  14. “FAA Gives Boeing 90 Days To Establish A Quality Action Plan”- 2 to 3 years to implement?

    My guess is that considering the scale of changes needed in safety protocols, manufacturing processes, and organizational culture at Boeing, a realistic timeframe for thorough improvement should be a conditional two to three years. This period should account for the step-by-step execution of corrective actions, obtaining regulatory approvals, rebuilding trust with customers, airlines, and the flying public, and achieving the necessary positive change for a lasting and better supervised commitment to safety.

    On earnings. Acknowledging that conflicts with quarterly earnings statements are inevitable, the severity of the issues Boeing is addressing needs a strategic and longer-term perspective. The understanding here is that prioritizing safety improvements, even if it impacts short-term financial results, is vital. The benefits of setting up a safer and more reliable operation are considered foundational for sustained success in the future. This strategic approach underscores the importance of prioritizing safety over immediate financial gains for the long-term health of the company.

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