New Report Indicates Boeing Reinstalled Alaska Airlines Door Plug


The Seattle Times reported today (Jan. 24) that “a person familiar with the details of the work” said Boeing mechanics in Renton, Washington, improperly reinstalled the now-infamous fuselage door plug on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, a Boeing 737. The Times also reported that the FAA has blocked Boeing’s plan to increase production of the MAXes and approved Boeing’s latest instructions for airlines to inspect the affected aircraft so they can be returned to service.

So far, it has been unclear whether the plug had been installed on the production line at fuselage manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas, and never removed, or whether Boeing employees had removed the door. The new information indicates Spirit AeroSystems asked Boeing to remove the door plug for rivet work and that Boeing was responsible for reinstalling the panel.

Today’s report supports a narrative last week from another anonymous whistleblower, self-described as a “Boeing insider.” That person said that Boeing’s own records show that four bolts designed to keep the door plug from sliding upward and off the door-frame stop pads were not installed before the aircraft was delivered to Alaska Airlines.

According to the paper, the whistleblower blasted Boeing’s quality control standards: “The reason the door blew off is stated in black and white in Boeing’s own records. It is also very, very stupid and speaks volumes about the quality culture at certain portions of the business.” Though the work should have been verified by a Boeing quality inspector, the whistleblower wrote, the inspection never happened due to a two-system record-keeping process.

Following unusually harsh public criticism from the CEOs of Boeing’s 737 MAX-9 customers Alaska Airlines (Ben Minicucci) and United Airlines (Scott Kirby), Boeing announced that assemblers on the 737 production line would interrupt work on Thursday (Jan. 25) to hold quality-control focus sessions.

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.


  1. The article states, “Boeing announced that assemblers on the 737 production line would interrupt work on Thursday (Jan. 25) to hold quality-control focus sessions.” Okay. That’s one small step for a man, but no giant leap. Why not take the employees on an hour flight in the 737’s they worked on???

    • Rick wins the Internet today.
      When I was building my RV-4, the local Bonanza pilots would razz me about flying in something that I built and how they would never fly in anything they built. I would point out that I was building with the fact that I, and my family, would someday fly in that plane so I was going to build it right. I would usually then add that I would never fly in anything *they* built either. >:-)

      • Right, been there, done that. I learned the hard way when racing to never put a high level of trust in someone else’s handiwork. I trust my own work enough to fly myself, family, and friends in the airplanes I have built.

    • Why is there so much hair pulling over this and none about the myriad of perfectly good builds from Boeing that were destroyed by defective piloting. It’s not just the line workers causing safety problems but a short circuit between the yolk (or joy stick) and rudder pedals has brought down their share as well. We’ve seen reports of near misses from runway incursions attributed to control towers as well. There’s more to the problem than a single plug not bolted in.

    • Brilliant idea! Every time a new plane rolls out of Boeing’s hangar, one section of the assembly line takes a break and climbs onto that plane. No one knows who’s going until the plane is finished.

      Oh, yeah – and the execs in Chicago get randomly assigned to a flight, too.

      It’s called “incentive.”

  2. Boeing is shooting themselves in the foot and their reputation is being severely damaged. Might they need to reduce the number of financial types leading them and bring in more aviation oriented people? Do they care? It remains to be seen if they will right their ship.

    • If they bring in more aviation oriented people and reduce the number of financial types leading them then the quality of the airplanes may go up but profits will go down.

      They do care. About making more money.

  3. The way these things usually play out is that management will wring their hands, funeral-face mea-culpas all over the media, hold safety stand-downs, fire a couple of people (who may have had little to do with the problem), bump the TV ad budget, and do their level-best to make us all forget it ever happened. “Door? What door? Oh, you mean, “the Plug”. That was WEEKS ago. That’ll never happen again…” And it probably won’t. Besides, no one died …

    And why shouldn’t they? Boeing doesn’t answer to the flying public, just to their airline customers, their BoD, and Wall Street. Does anyone really think that any statistically significant portion of the traveling public will be online shopping for airfares, and think, “If it’s Boeing, I ain’t goin…”? Not on your life. Most of them don’t know who manufactured the aircraft, much less the specific make/model/variant that had “an incident”. They know “puddle-jumper”, “cigar-tube”, “small”, “medium”, and “large”. And they don’t care, as long as it has the lowest fare that will get them close to their destination. Unless they are in a major metropolitan area, their only options are “direct” or “connection(s)”, if that. So it’s only a matter of time before the next “incident”. And then the one after that …

    Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see the SNL skit about an airline offering a new option for air travelers:

    “Tired of squinting through a tiny airline window to watch the incredible scenery of our great country slide by? Want a panoramic view, and to feel the wind in your hair like riding in your grandfather’s convertible? Book your next flight on MethuselAir, where at any point your window might open and you will get a once-in-a-lifetime flying experience! (Only available in certain seats on a limited number of flights.) Book NOW!”

  4. Perhaps blaming nameless entities for this issue will not solve any problem. Consider that this may be a cultural problem, where no one takes takes account of his own actions. The “point the finger to somewhere, anywhere, but me” attitude. It’s the person on the bottom of the pile that screwed up. Where is the work ethic? Where is the supervision? Where is the “real” training? Why are we trying to blame this on a “system”. “Boeing” did this? Who or what is Boeing? I found the bolts attaching the strut to the wing of a brand new 41 hour Cessna 172S so buggered up with vise grip marks that I could not get a socket on them. I tried in vain to let Cessna know they had a moron on their assembly line and was totally ignored. Oh, the bolts were under warranty, so they offered to send new bolts. Did “Cessna” do that? No, some one that didn’t give a rat’s butt about their job did that…probably got paid a fat union wage to boot. I used to work corporate jets, I have seen this attitude blossom in the last 40 years.
    I had another similar issue with the Slick magneto folks. Three new ones in a row that jumped time in less than 25 hours, I mean like as much as 7 degrees. Loose point attachment screw. Four calls to Slick only to have them tell us that they supplied the assembly line with a bigger magnifying glass. WTF! My grandfather used to sing me a song: “do what you do, do well”, and apparently today’s mind set forgets that. Thanks for letting me rant.

    • I totally agree with you but would like to ask why readers, the FAA, and the news media beleive any other manufacturer (Airbus) has somehow discovered a pool of employees that are any different? This really needs to be treated on an industry basis, not just Boeing. Whoever the sole was that left those bolts out could have just a easily been hired at Airbus or Spirit Industries. Lord knows how many of these types work in the airline maintenance end. I do.

    • Work ethic was lost long ago. 20-30 year olds even 40 grew up being given awards for participating. Supervision is about get it done & hurry up & minimize cost. Execs are about share price, get another deal, profits from change requests (ECPs), their bonuses. If they get sacked it comes with a bag of cash. QA is like safety – it’s seen as a cost not revenue.
      Maintenance has gone the same way.
      Fifty years Air Force, navy air, legacy airline WB.

  5. I’m not entirely sure why I take Boeing’s blunders so personally – perhaps it’s the perception of a decline in American manufacturing? But I am utterly disgusted. Boeing’s mistakes are deeply troubling; perhaps their executives should consider reconnecting with reality. Instead of isolating themselves, a few months spent in Renton, working a couple of steps behind the frontline workers, might do wonders. Sending line workers to corporate for a fam flight to exchange POVs could be an interesting twist as well.

    Perhaps, this hands-on experience would offer “corporate” a firsthand understanding of how their decisions impact lives. Even a blind man in the middle of a snowstorm at night would see that Boeing’s extrication from the bottom of the outhouse hinges on the company’s ability to regain trust by demonstrating a renewed commitment to safety, quality, and transparency. We’re talking “Hail Mary” here.

  6. I suggest checking out YouTuber BLANCOLIRIO (Juan Brown who is a 777 driver). He says essentially the same with additional explanation of the disparate Quality Control Systems.

    • If I’m not mistaken, that COULD have been an exit row in certain seat configurations, but in this aircraft it was not an exit row, hence the ‘door plug’ and not a functioning door. Well, except on this particular flight……

    • There was nobody in that row. The seats were empty. I wonder if Alaskan did that because they suspected the plug was leaking.

  7. Sure at the end of the day this is Boeings fault….AND the fault of the guys who re-installed the plug,,,they have to live with they did not do their job correctly-period.

    The people doing the work are not highly motivated to their job to the best of their ability or even minimum satisfactory for their employer anymore. This is a current problem way past the adage if someone is doing something they will likely make mistakes.

    This is todays worker culture….there are no consequences for doing a poor job and there is no incentive to do a good job….integrity in the American worker is gone.

    Blame Boeing or the Hospital or some inanimate object but the human performing the work is more than likely the failure point, and he doesnt care.

    • Spot on, Bob. Union culture has brought us to this point because companies are not able to punish union workers without the approval of the union.

      • I don’t think it’s necessarily union mentality – does Spirit have a union shop? Doesn’t sound like Onex.
        I think it’s a societal mindset certainly in North America.

        • It IS a union problem. They kicked the independent Quality Inspectors off the assembly floor about 15 years ago, claiming they could “self-inspect” better than the QA group. This is a bottoms-up union mech problem that the IAM needs to own and address.

  8. It’s not just Boeing. It’s everywhere in industry. Call customer support and you usually get a bot with canned answers. If you get a human, its in Malasia and they have no power to fix much and no ability to elevate real issues. Go to the grocery store where they have been out of your favorite jam for a while now. Talk to the grocery manager and you find a seperate vendor stocks that stuff, and the manager has no insight into what his own store carries, or even has on order. There is so much stratification these days with no vertical power or communication that higher-ups are not even aware there are problems. One last thing; why does it take a whistle blower to reveal the paperwork trail shows NO BOLTS were installed? The FAA should have been crawling through the QC records on this plane on day #2. There’s a picture of the door plug, posing with a female FAA official (draw your own conclusion there….) in that teacher’s yard into which it fell. The pic clearly shows no bolt in the roller track. So, the FAA knew, or should have known the cause as soon as the door was found. Here’s a link:

    • Do you really beleive that leaving bolts out would be documented. I fit was, the should be looking a sabatoge. Consider the source. Obviously a disgruntled employee looking for his/her day in the sun. Quickly picked up by a media that hates everything corporate.

      Yes, the FAA should have and likely did know even prior to finding the door. But they must do what they do so well, take two years to gin up the paperwork for a final report. Like their lab in Washington will prove what they already know. This is nothing more than CYA on their part. After the MAX groundings didn’t they take the in house certification and return to service away from Boeing? I guess their no better than Boeing.

      • jeez, read it again. Leaving OUT bolts would not be documented. NOT PUTTING THEM IN would be “documented” by LACK of a signoff for that step. That’s what the whistle blower means. The point is, why does it take a whistle blower to reveal this? Reporters rarely do any digging anymore, they just go to the briefings, usually run by female to show how inclusive the FAA is.

    • This may be semantics or splitting hairs, but I read the whistle blowers account first hand which was a comment in a Leeham article. There was no documentation of the bolts being reinstalled after a repair. Not that there was documentation the bolts were not installed.

      Regardless Boeing needs a major cultural change if there is to be any hope of them being relevant in the industry twenty years from now.

    • That the bolts weren’t there was never in question – the question at the start was whether they had been there and failed (with the loss of all the pieces) or hadn’t been there at all.

      • Huh?? Well, using your words “or hadn’t been there at all” seems eerily similar to your other words “that the bolts weren’t there was never in question”.

  9. Boeing is certainly riding a runaway train. But I don’t understand why it can’t be seen that this is an issue that exists throughout the entire industry. The measure of success is now which company can sell and produce the most aircraft. Airbus flaunts its exceeding deliveries that they themselves thought were lofty. The FAA is correct in slowing Boeings production rates but they should also do the same at Airbus. If they intend to manage quality control it should be consistent across the entire industry. They’re not in the news these days but they surely have their issues. Bad engines, flight control issues. etc. They didn’t build those GTF engines but they hungthem on.

    This industry is ‘THE’ runaway train with airlines increasing flights, demanding untested technology to squeeze more miles from less fuel. Ordering new aircraft as fast as they can get them to be placed into a system already overburdened and over capacity.

    We’ve become a throwaway society and our sense of quality workmanship and pride have taken a back seat to a ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude. And I see no reason Airbus would have any better luck finding decent qualified workers. The industry is not only short on quality factory employees, but also pilots, mechanics, controllers and yes, qualified management. It seems the only thing we have plenty of is disgruntled protected whistleblower types and a media who doesn’t know the ray dome from a rudder. But ever so eager to report whatever drama they can muster. They never let a good airplane crash go to waste.

    It’s time the FAA does its job and pulls in the reins and slows all of this down. And for sure, gets their own house in order.

  10. Interesting how not one person anywhere has brought up the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union and whether they’re in any way culpable. According to at least a Reuters article, IAM #751 is now part of “an ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigation” on the Alaskan flight and “have delayed the opening of contract negotiations [with Boeing] until early March”. It’d definitely have “bad optics” for the union representing the people responsible for the work behind this incident to also get into a contract battle with Boeing right now. I can’t help but think the union had as much to do as Boeing management with the safety culture that resulted in this incident.

  11. New 737 max AD should be as follows: remove door plugs and install door as doors can be inspected more easily than “door plugs” and give pilots the ability to override the mcas system (that is where the max problems started) anything can malfunction pilots need to be able to override said malfunctioning systems

    • Why wouldn’t the plugs be easy to inspect? If the inner panel isn’t removable, a small hole and a borescope should be all you’d need to confirm that the properly secured bolts are in place.

      [Or cut a larger hole with a clear plastic cover so that the passengers can confirm that this will not become an exit row.]

  12. Didn’t some union hack come on here just the other day blaming this on anti union Boeing management moving production to the Carolinas to get cheaper labor?


  13. As a retired manufacturing engineer, with responsibility of training employees in new processes, I have seen over and over again that if employees perceive themselves to be not recognized enough, not appreciated enough, and/or not paid enough, their work performance will be disengaged and checked out of the process. When people feel they are interchangeable and merely human tools they really don’t care about what they are doing. If the importance of their job is explained to them there’s a good chance they can become conscientious workers. At one of my places of employment, we would routinely see HR fall way behind in the purportedly “annual” review proicess, and Payroll would very often short workers’ checks. The contrition consisted mostly of “Oops – silly me!” and that was it, along with “We’ll get those hours on next week’s check (giggle)”. Yet our production staff was working on life- and survival-critical aerospace, defense, and high-reliability medical projects where mistakes could have catastrophic results if faulty products went out the door and were put into service. I’m glad I’m out of the industry now and I feel for anybody trying to promote conscientious work ethics to members of the general workforce today. The case can be made that the “workplace culture” is to blame but a significant factor is Who Touched It Last. Nobody involved should get a free pass on this one.

    • Life is not perfect and from an employees point of view especially so… the slights you speak of are a day to day worry for employees, but the work done in areospace or healthcare or even furnace repair can cause death if not done correctly and to the best of your ability. There is no place on these jobs for poor performance,,,distractions? yes. But when you agree to come to work under less than ideal conditions thats on you. The two employees that reinstalled the plug and “inspect” their work failed.

      I am not a union shill or company brown noser but a professional who has had to perform in my job 100% and top of my game everyday all day or bad things could happen. Regardless what my boss thought of me or my company did not pay me or when they forgot to send me a Christmas card that year. I am proud to say all of my colleagues also felt the same way, integrity and focused on the job and task – period.

      • There are always employees with similar ethics, who understand the importance of doing the best job at all times. Turning the disinteresteds’ focus in that direction through both peers the decision-making staff became a priority. Sometimes it worked but other times it did not. It’s choice that can be made only by the individual.

        • You are talking about leadership instead of just management. Unfortunately, our educational and political establishments are doing everything they can to destroy leadership as a virtue. And, if anyone’s reaction to that was to immediately blame one political party or the other, they need to check their bias for their own good.

          Trump is not a good leader. And, all but the most moderate Dems detest personal responsibility, judgement, and merit even though they may not actually think they do. They are just living with cognitive dissonance.

  14. No one it seems has focused on where the rot in Boeing began. It was created by the disgraced former CEO Harry Stonecipher — This ex Mc Donnell Douglas man had a deadly hand in steering Boeing towards its disastrous current state.

    This disgraced greedy man was wholly focussed on the profitability at the expense of engineering quality. His only real interest was on the share price and stripping out of Boeing the big dividends for shareholders .
    His rotten culture of profit before engineering became the mantra by which his successors strived to increase still further the Boeing share price and with it their bonuses. James McNerney – another cost cutter again at the expense of safety, he cut engineering staff and spending.

    Yet again there was another totally disgraced CEO Dennis Muilenburg-finally toppled but only by public outrage- not resigning in decency as Boeing’s CEO- but forced to resign after two 737 Max disasters. -Of course not before he took a nice settlement on top of his annual salary etc of US$ 23m !!! –and where is he now one wonders?

    Boeing management was as rotten at the top with greed and share price focus just as the Russian economy is corrupt today from its top elitists to the lowly manager at the expense of its ordinary citizens.

    Complicit too is the FAA. Read the shocking story of the DC10–Google the book “Destination Disaster” by a UK team of investigative reporters. It lays bare how safety was compromised for profit which ultimately killed 346 innocent people . –Worse still was the identical cosy nod,a wink and handshake between the airframe manufacturers and the FAA.

    The FAA failed to ground the aircraft with an immediate DC10 AD thus enabling the DC10 to continue flying knowing there was a potentially fatal door design.
    As predicted by ‘the Apple gate memo’ circulated to MD, a cargo door would sooner or later blow-out and lead to the loss of an aircraft.

    The same situation was evidence at Boeing with the 737 MCAS certification.The issues with MCAS is 100% DC10 Deja vu — we have been here once before. Greed and cosy relationships are killers .The 737 Max door plug loss was almost the next Boeing killer.

    Long may you sweat Mr Calhoun.

    Cutting costs , selling assets and boosting the share price set the trend that subsequently permeated the top management of Boeing. . . Douglas Aircraft after the merger (to save it ) with McDonnell

    • Assuming you are correct, what good does that focus on blame do? How do you use your insights to prevent future problems?

    • It’s almost as if McDonnell Douglas took over Boeing (with Boeing’s cash), fired the previous leaders and installed their own in place. Was Boeing really so scared of the MD11 (and successor aircraft) against their own 777 line?

      • That seems to be a common theme. There ought to be a book about the phenomenon. Bad management mafias are like a disease that spreads through mergers and even from big layoffs into the rest of the industry.

  15. “The new information indicates Spirit AeroSystems asked Boeing to remove the door plug for rivet work and that Boeing was responsible for reinstalling the panel.”

    This implies that the fuselage was already in the hands of Boeing and presumably represented a blip in the flow, both physically and paperwork-wise. Doubtless we’ll have a clearer analysis eventually, but it certainly sounds like a classic setup for this very sort of incident.

    Manufacturing processes for stuff like this have become so complex that, just as with major software, bugs are inevitable. I predict the creation of AI “bloodhounds” that troll QC flowlines for this type of what-if gap will represent a growth job specialty.

  16. The question I would ask is why would an armed and operable door be used as a plug? It literally was a fully capable and spring armed and only missing the cabin handle and did what it was designed to do and opened when the pins system preventing it from actuating failed. The decision to install an operable door that is kept from actuating by 4 bolts and a pin is the biggest question that needs to be answered here. The decision to install the armed door rather than an actual inert plug is questionable.
    While errors in manufacturing need to be checked and answered why was it there in the first place has to be asked.

    • You literally need to do some more reading to catch up on your information. The door plug was NOT literally a fully capable door only lacking a cabin handle. In fact, the differences are profound and fundamental. Look into it.

  17. Everyone is missing the point. Affirative action requirements have come home to roost. Are the people who are building and working on any critical system the best and most qualified or are they selected to fill a quota? Do you feel safer now?

  18. This may be a simplistic view but “…interrupt work on Thursday (Jan. 25) to hold quality-control focus sessions…” tells me a lot. Even in my less critical industry of electricity generation, “Safety an Quality” were a condition of employment, NOT something you would hit on occassionally, but a continuing process integrated into every aspect of our work. One strike and you were out… zero tolerance for offenders! Some didn’t make it, but the system worked.

  19. Wait a minute. I thought there was satellite imagery showing the plug removed by AAR in Oklahoma City after Alaska sent the aircraft there for the internet installation. Saw it on the news. Now it’s nowhere to be found I can tell. Sounds like that might have been debunked.

  20. Seems like you are making a lot of assumptions yourself. If skin color is so important to you, then perhaps you should find some of the many minority intellectuals who are not fans of affirmative action and read up.

  21. The other day, I met a young lady that grew up in the Seattle area, ended up marrying a man from North Central US who was working for Boeing – in fact he retired from Boeing. He was there during the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. She told me when that happened, the powers that be from M/D essentially took over the management of Boeing. It was apparent to the employees that M/D was more interested in money than they were in “perfect” aircraft out the door. Her husband and his colleagues were disappointed with the new strategy brought by the corporate “mind-set” to Boeing. Sounded to me like the “roosters have come home to roost” and they are paying for it now. Fact or fiction? I don’t know. This was just one person’s evaluation of the new partnership. Someone who was there at the time and saw the results. Just read some comments on line. Appears my information was correct!

  22. How is it that McDonnell Douglas entered into the equation on the door plug being blown out? This is ridiculous, as a former Douglas employee myself working cockpit ….excuse me flight deck sheet metal buildup on the MD80’s back in Long Beach Ca. in the middle 1980’s, we took pride in our work and QC was on it, if a drugged out loser protected by the UAW was in the dept. they were put on small part assembly where cost and damage was minimal.

    This blowout was it seems a direct result of a one off repair and a subsequent misunderstanding of door reassembly by one individual and probably one inspector who was in all actuality a newbie him/her self. The inspectors a lot of times have to be trained by the mechanics on what to look for and how something is done per the manual anyway.

    Boeing is taking another hit on the Max from the criminal media and now comes under fresh scrutiny because of likely 2 individuals. This dilemma/hype/false accusations should have financial repercussions for the accusers who spew out falsehoods in the name of journalism hell bent on destroying anything that can make a story.