NTSB Chair Not Pleased With Boeing’s Cooperation On Door Plug Probe


National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy angrily testified today (March 6) during a Senate hearing that “Boeing has not provided us with the documents and information that we have requested numerous times over the past few months.” She referred to the NTSB investigation into the in-flight departure of a door plug from an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX airliner.

As reported in the Seattle Times, the NTSB investigation has revealed that a team of Boeing workers who specialize in servicing the door plugs on the assembly line in Seattle were assigned to enable three visiting contract workers engaged by Spirit Aerosystems to access and repair faulty rivets in the door plug area. When the plug was replaced after the rivet work was done, the Boeing team left out four critical bolts, causing the door to eventually work free and depart from the aircraft during a passenger flight at 16,000 feet.

Homendy criticized Boeing during the hearing for not providing documentation of the work that the Boeing team performed and also complained of a lack of cooperation in enabling the NTSB to interview members of the team and the manager of the crew.

Homendy said, “The manager has been out on medical leave, we’ve not been able to interview that individual. We’ve asked for the names of the other 25 people, have not received the names.

“We don’t have the records. We don’t have the names of the 25 people. It’s absurd that two months later, we don’t have that.”

Boeing responded today that the work on the door plug might not have been recorded. “With respect to documentation, if the door plug removal was undocumented there would be no documentation to share.” In a statement immediately following the Senate hearing, Boeing wrote: “We have now provided the full list of individuals on the 737 door team, in response to a recent request.”

Further cooperation by those involved could be hampered by an ongoing criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the incident. Boeing or Spirit AeroSystems workers could refuse to talk openly to the NTSB out of concern over possible self-incrimination. Homendy said, “Where it becomes a concern for us is when employees and others don’t feel safe to speak with us.”

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. Good thing Boeing management is working overtime to get to the bottom of what happened……Oh wait…Never mind…

  2. I am certain that the NTSB will get to the bottom of this issue, despite any intransigence that they may encounter. They just need to keep plugging away at it.

  3. Uhhh… Did I just read that Boeing reported that the work on the door may have not been documented? Why does that not raise even more concern? What other maintenance items are not documented?

    • The door plug fiasco is the thin edge of the wedge. I suspect that the more the FAA looks the more they are going to find. In the long run I think this is going to be much more consequential to Boeing than how 4 bolts got missed when the door plug was closed.

  4. As a retired A&P reading that Boeing said regarding the plug installation “With respect to documentation, if the door plug removal was undocumented there would be no documentation to share” causes me to wonder who’s minding the store in Seattle?

    • Russ, could you please let me and others who may be interested know what the parameters are regarding any discussion, or, comments regarding DEI? Considering DEI is a part of everyone’s life especially from an occupational stand point your guidance regarding this topic as it relates to aviation would be much appreciated.

    • Either they’re lying or they’re telling the truth. Either possibility is equally frightening.

  5. Yep, everything is proceeding as planned. Everything is fine. Head in sand… La, la, la, la, la, la, la…

  6. From what I understand, “Removing” a door plug is a known, defined procedure, but “opening” a plug is not. Never mind that the work involved is almost the same, including removing and reinstalling the four bolts in question. The result is an incentive to use the ‘simpler’ and less documentation onerous (therefore quicker) “opening” procedure to gain access to the rivets.

    This may explain why Boeing still hasn’t provided the NTSB with documentation about the work performed on the door plug. It’s because “opening” is not as well documented as “removing“.

  7. Russ, could you please let me and others who may be interested know what the parameters are regarding any discussion, or, comments regarding DEI? Considering DEI is a part of everyone’s life especially from an occupational stand point your guidance regarding this topic as it relates to aviation would be much appreciated.

    Sorry, posted my request in the wrong place.

    • If there’s some evidence that a more (or less) diverse and inclusive workforce played a role in the door falling off then it makes sense that it be a part of the discussion. Otherwise, it’s irrelevant.

      • If it’s part of the culture it’s relevant. Boeing has already declared its relevance. I really don’t even want to pursue that topic relative to Boeing. I would just like to know what I can say and what I can’t say to avoid being bounced. So far there is no clarity other than if I don’t like what you’re saying you will get bounced. Specifically as it relates to DEI, it cannot be ignored. It’s in all aspects of our lives.

  8. I’ve always felt that Boeing had a long, well-deserved reputation for building the best airpalnes in the world. If what the National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy says is true, this is wholly disappointing and uncalled for. If so, Boeing is creating further harm to its reputation by delaying and sweeping problems under the rug in full view of the public.

    Boeing can be better than this but only if those at the top choose to do so.

  9. Since the NTSB findings will potentially impact commercial aviation going forward and the DOJ’s will not, why does the DOJ need to investigate anything until the NTSB finishes with theirs?

  10. I agree with KcKC, but I think the answer is timing. NTSB reports generally take 12 to 24 months to come out. That’s quite a bit of time for DOJ to wait. So I go along with DOJ looking into it.

  11. “Earlier in her career, Chair Homendy held a position with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, where she represented the interests of working families before Congress and the Executive Branch, focusing on transportation (trucking, rail, and aviation) and international trade issues. She served as a classified staff liaison for the Teamsters on the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Trade, and the U.S. National Administrative Office’s North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation.” Professional politician.

    • Would you rather have an unqualified _amateur_ politician? And how is that germane to her extensive resume (on both sides of the employer/employee relationship) and qualifications for the job?

        • So compare her resume to Boeing CEO David C. Calhoun, whose last operations-related job was well into the last century.

          I’m quite sure he had nothing to do with any incomplete work-orders, or task documentation requirements. His degree is in accounting, not engineering, much less engineering management.
          Someone in the extensive Boeing organizational morass beneath him, neglected to fully document the procedure for R&R-ing a door plug (or failed to follow it) and it blew up in his face.

          Homendy’s job is to root out the details and document them. Punishment, if any, is not in her bailiwick. She’s a professional investigator, not a politician. Gary owes her an apology for his glib mis-characterization.

          • No her job is not to “root out the details and document them.” Her job is to run the agency that does that. Good administrators stay out of the way and let the folks with thorough technical expertise do their job. It was offensive to me to see the NTSB Administrator onsite at an investigation. That’s grandstanding – and publicity hogging. Distasteful in the extreme and exceptionally unprofessional. I hadn’t had an opinion about her prior to that – even with her union history. Now I see someone whose using this gig for all its worth and soon will be on to the next. It’s a shame to see someone bring an office into such disrepute.

    • Pretty broad tarring of her experience as a “professional politician.” By that measure, AOPA’s Mark Baker and EAA’s Jack Pelton certainly qualify as the same.

  12. The investigation will also look at possible sabotage by leaving the bolts out. Having worked in aviation maintenance & being a pilot for over 50 years my caution to maintenance personnel was to never walk away from a critical task without finishing it.

    • Yes, that is common sense and is usually taught at most levels of training. But keep in mind this is not a typical repair operation. In an assembly line enviornment (which this is) things are done differently than in a repair station. Breaks, shift changes, days off all lead to an opportunity for this sort of thing to occure. When that bell rings, those workers will likely walk away at that point. If the following crew will pick up where they left off is anybody’s guess but I’m sure that’s how and when this occured. It’s the discipline at that level that needs to be looked at. Not the coporate office. It’s an issue Detroit and auto makers have had to deal with since Henry Ford started it all.

      • “In an assembly line enviornment (which this is) things are done differently than in a repair station.”

        I believe you’re mistaken there. Had it been an assembly line operation, the procedures would have allowed for one crew to replace another.

        But this WAS an impromptu repair station where the nearby rivets were replaced. The operation fell outside of the normal assembly line ops, and the “door plug removed” flag (which should have triggered an inspection step) was never set.

  13. This sounds EXACTLY like when two departments or government institutions are fighting which I’m afraid is exactly what is going on.

    • No, it sounds EXACTLY like two government agencies, with different purview, compentencies, and responsibilities, looking at the same problem. Would you want to be examined by _only_ a cardiac surgeon after your car wreck?

      • It sounds to me you think Congress is arguing with the NTSB.

        In my version of the story, the two government institutions are fighting before Congress, and they are Boeing and the NTSB. Much like two kids arguing to their parents about which one is at fault for the dishes not getting done. The point being the Boeing is now less a publicly owned company and more a branch of government due to lack of competition and too much interaction with government. I’m complaining about industrial policy and what it’s done to Boeing.

        So your question was initially lost on me. I, of course, want all the needed experts to offer their perspectives. I also, if able, want to be able to choose which perspectives seem to have the most merit and what course of treatment to follow. And, I want no one from government involved, thank you very much.

        • “No one from government involved” – classic. Let’s send the NTSB home and just let Boeing keep doing whatever they want without documenting it.

          No thanks – keeping corporations in check is one of the main reasons government is valuable.

          • Did you completely misread my post, or are you purposely being intellectually dishonest?

            You took a quote from my discussion about not wanting the government involved in what medical treatment I choose, and you then implied I don’t want the NTSB to investigate accidents.

            And, you ignored my point that the government isn’t keeping a company in line because the government is virtually running the company. Here’s another healthcare point for those who can understand it. In countries with government run healthcare, the statistics on healthcare are generally shady AF.

            You cannot get effective oversight if the “referee” has to cover up its own bad policies by not calling penalties.

    • Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

  14. Ever do some complicated rebuild job, and have parts leftover in the tray? There must be someone on the job that found 4 bolts left in the tray, and didn’t say anything to his boss. THAT’s who they should talk to…

  15. I fear a media/ NTSB/DOJ pile-on, further damaging Boeing. This rather shrill announcement adds to it. Can’t this be done more quietly? Getting the DOJ involved also will cause a circling of wagons and reduce cooperation. The threat can still be there, but without so much sensational publicity that will damage Boeing’s market share.

  16. Boeing’s headquarters is in Arlington Virginia near DC which is very far away from their origins and from their manufacturing. To me this is an indication that management are focused on kissing-up to politicians and the finance industry, not to managing their core operations.

  17. Here I go again. IMHO, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Either way you look at this, it feeds the press and those chimers who never miss an opportunity to voice their disgust with Boeing. (usually European Airbus supporters) If they had given the names to the press, how would that improve the relationship and culture at Boeing? And for what purpose? It would look like finger pointing and of course that’s just what we would be reading about.

    The door bolts were left out! End of story and it’s an easy fix. Just make sure the bolts are installed. I see no need for the NTSB to drag this out with another one of the multi-year investigations that usually end up stating the obvious, along with recommendations that are not enforceable and seldom enacted. And, they now seem to do their best investigating at a press conference. You have to dig deep to find just what documentation the NTSB was after. “Names” was all they wanted. Again, for what purpose? It should be an internal Boeing/IAM issue to resolve and I’m sure that was Boeing intent.

    You don’t need to be a federal investigator to figure out if the bolts were never installed, it’s quite likely there was no documentation proving it. What did they expect to find? Oops!, we forgot the bolts buried in the tons of paperwork the FAA requires? And, do they even require documentation of a rework issue and if so, to what degree? It’s the final product that counts. They certainly don’t require notations of every mis installed rivet on any aircraft I’ve worked on.

    It’s really time to end this government bureaucracy (NTSB) and move the function to the FAA. And I might add it’s time for these fish wrappers to move on to something else.

    • And in those olden days, this would have been an “Oops! We really f*cked up that one. Good thing no one was hurt. We’ve figured out what went wrong, added training, procedures, and documentation so it won’t happen again. And boy are we sorry. Lifetime free tickets for everyone involved!”

      But of course, Boeing’s (lawyers) first instinct was to bar the doors …

    • JetJoe – I have to disagree. After a 32 year career with the FAA, I’m kinda glad to have another organization that keeps tabs on transportation safety (the NTSB), let’s not put all our eggs in one basket (FAA).

      If we really want to point fingers at the root cause of these problems, let’s start with the morons on Capitol Hill. “Do more with less” they told us, “use those designees” they said, “you shouldn’t have to travel so much”. My favorite for about the last 20 years of my career was “looks like we’re not going to have a budget on October first, so don’t plan to spend any money until we do”, in other words continuing resolution, continuing resolution, continuing resolution. Then by about May first “Hey look we’ve got a budget” you can travel now.

      So as they always do, the politicos will continue to dump on Boeing (who is not innocent BTW) without ever acknowledging “They Started the Fire”.

      • I agree with your disagreement.

        With respect to letting Boeing employees (DER’s) sign off as representatives of the FAA, where else is Boeing going to get the expertise to approve and sign on their own? More than likely an FAA guy never having worked for the likes of a Boeing would be outgunned in any engineering debate as to what is or is not approvable.

      • Hello Max S!-
        I too disagree with “JetJoe” about combining the NTSB functions with the FAA. While we all (I would guess from the comments) shun the idea of growing more government bureaucracy for the taxpayers to invest in (joke), there is a definite need for and public safety interest served by the separation of functions (and responsibilities) between the FAA and the NTSB.

        There are folks out there that see Jennifer Homendy as another Mary Schiavo – good intentions, but not a clue when it comes to responsible administration. But in a larger sense, shouldn’t we be more focused on the institutions and less focused on the individuals involved? And another point:

        Like it or not, Boeing has been and continues to be a major player in our GDP and a prime exporter. In other words, they are key to a healthy USA economy. If they are “lost”, instead of trash-talking them with a disciplinary air, shouldn’t we be reaching out as a nation to guide them back into our USA family of huge corporations run by qualified leadership?

        What bothers me more is the lack of outrage expressed here over the DOJ jumping in with their ham-fisted grenade in the room approach! Clearly, we have seen enough evidence now that Merrit Garland, while he may be a very honorable man, is NOT the leader we need and has no business as our AG! Just my opinion.

    • “It’s the final product that counts.” Uh, yeah, JJ, that’s exactly the point. In this case, the final product was a door plug that departed the plane because someone screwed up. Fortunately, due to timing and circumstance, the outcome was not that bad. Had it cut loose at 35,000 feet, we would have seen a whole lot worse outcome. Love ’em or hate ’em, the NTSB’s charge is to determine if this was a one-off occurrence due to lax procedures or a systemic issue that could happen again unless the system gets changed. I’m not a big fan of the NTSB or Homendy, but they have a job to do, and the flying public wants to know that the problem has been identified and corrected. Unfortunately, getting the DOJ involved only mucks up the process and gets all the lawyers involved. No good ever comes from that.

  18. The uneven application of justice leads to erosion of trust in the institutions. Who is going to invite the FBI in for a beverage and chat when they come knocking on your door? Never again without counsel present.

    Cling to your rights because they are being abused. The environment has changed. I don’t blame the techs involved one iota for invoking 5th amendment protections.

  19. What happened to paper work showing how an item was to be assembled, then signed off by the person doing the work?

    It was then checked by another person verifying it was done properly, and then signed off by that second person.

    • This is the software issue. Spirit’s software didn’t alert Boeing’s system as to the plug removal; hence no follow-uo.

  20. I think Jennifer has touched on the crux of this and she is getting stonewalled by Boeing’s wall of denial. It’s time to dig in to this cesspool and begin draining “the swamp”.

  21. The NTSB is investigating a serious blunder, a door plug that blew off a Boeing 737 MAX airplane during flight. Jennifer Homendy, charges Boeing of not cooperating with the investigation, particularly regarding missing documentation for the door plug repair and lack of access to involved personnel. Wait! Boeing May Face Criminal Probe?. So, Boeing seems to be running wild putting out fires, and as usual, public comments by the gallery range from expressing concern about safety and questioning Boeing’s practices to jokes and conspiracy theories by “drama queens.” The most sensical or proper comments focus on getting to the bottom of the incident to ensure aviation safety.

  22. All this, and STILL not a peep out of the IAM, whose folks actually did (or didn’t) do the work. Until said union steps up and admits some responsibility, punishing only Boeing corporate management will not solve this problem.

    • Ah, good point! Also, it appears that the contract between Boeing and IAM is set to expire on September 12, 2024. It’s anticipated that crucial matters, such as wages, benefits, and job security, will take center stage. Given Boeing’s recent challenges, the union might have the advantage. Why muddle the waters, eh?

  23. Latest, if true: A United B777 loses a wheel on departure and a B737 has a stuck rudder pedal, an Alaska cargo door pops opens. What else could go F***ing go wrong?