NTSB Sanctions Boeing For ‘Blatantly’ Violating Terms Of Agreement

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a statement this morning sanctioning Boeing for “blatantly” violating investigative regulations it agreed to as a party in the probe of the door-plug blowout in Portland, Oregon. The NTSB cited a Boeing media briefing on June 25 in which the manufacturer “provided non-public investigative information to the news media that NTSB had not verified or authorized for release. In addition, Boeing offered opinions and analysis on factors it suggested were causal to the accident.” 

The statement continued, “In the briefing, Boeing portrayed the NTSB investigation as a search to locate the individual responsible for the door plug work. The NTSB is instead focused on the probable cause of the accident, not placing blame on any individual or assessing liability.”

Making public the investigative information and offering analysis of that information, the NTSB wrote, “are prohibited by the party agreement that Boeing signed when it was offered party status by the NTSB at the start of the investigation. As a party to many NTSB investigations over the past decades, few entities know the rules better than Boeing.”

The NTSB did not remove Boeing’s party status in the investigation, but it has lost access to investigative information, and the NTSB may subpoena relevant records as it continues the investigation. In addition, Boeing will be subpoenaed to appear at an investigative hearing on Aug. 6-7 in Washington, but the manufacturer will not be allowed to ask questions of other parties in the investigation.

And finally, the NTSB wrote, “Given that Boeing is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ] in relation to its Deferred Prosecution Agreement stemming from Boeing’s interactions with the FAA prior to the Boeing MAX fatalities, the NTSB will be coordinating with the DOJ Fraud Division to provide details about Boeing’s recent unauthorized investigative information releases in the 737 MAX 9 door plug investigation.”

The Board notified Boeing in writing and their letter follows:

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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.

29 COMMENTS

  1. You just don’t want to get on the bad side of the FAA, I don’t care who you are, or, what you’re flying. It’s just not a good idea.

    • Not of fan of gag orders or agreements. I’m sure Boeing didn’t just volunteer to a news blackout. If Boeing has something to offer in terms of efforts to improve, this is (or used to be) a country that enshrined first amendment rights.

      • The letter firmly claims NTSB exclusive authority. That is a red flag. Firestation’s concerns are valid.

      • This is a very serious issue. The reason the manufacturers are allowed in the tent in NTSB investigations is that they have technical expertise that can be invaluable. Also, having them there potentially means they have more reason to believe the findings and can act accordingly.
        However, if they are there, in the tent, and are not gagged, it would be very detrimental to the work of the investigation. So, they get to decide to go into the tent and not comment giving them a chance to both be heard and to avoid possibly being wrongfully found at fault, or not.
        Cannot have it both ways.

  2. This seems to be evidence implicating the corporate culture at Boeing, possibly suggesting that in addition to the engineering and manufacturing side of the organization, the public relations department is operating with understandings that are not synchronized or sensitive to the mission of the corporation, or worse, that the mission of the corporation has so changed from what existed previously that the new culture has colored the entire entity into the entity that now exists.

  3. Quote
    or worse, that the mission of the corporation has so changed from what existed previously that the new culture has colored the entire entity into the entity that now exists.
    Unquote

    /\ This

    • Now you’ve got it. You’re seeing the full picture of what has transpired over decades of deliberate, selfish, self centered management. Make no mistake about it. Nothing was an accident, it was all deliberate. There is no recovery from this outside of wholesale replacement of management. There has to be a blood bath in a very quick way if there is any chance of survival. It is what it is.

      • First we’ll have a trial and then we’re going to have some hangins. Yehaw mob law.

      • Because the unions are in no way selfish? The FAA and other government actors haven’t had their own agendas?

        Sorry, but I’m happy to hear more specific, verifiable, and to the point complaints, but I’ve heard enough of the regular songs.

        • Sure, you can run that route. No problem, other than time is Boeing’s worst enemy. They don’t have any. Drag this out without any quick, decisive meaningful change and they will die a slow death.

          • They will die a slow death like Chrysler, perhaps. That death started in perhaps the early 70’s and it’s more or less still an operating entity.
            Boeing is, to its deficit, an aviation version Chrysler but with domestic less competition which makes it more economically important and it has a much more direct connection to national defense, AND many more connections to government.

  4. What about the astronauts that are stuck at the ISS due to a flawed Starliner? If I was one of them, I’d let NASA know…”If it’s a Boeing, I ain’t going!” Send Elon to the rescue and scrap that piece of over priced, over weight, flawed piece of junk. AND… the taxpayers have paid for it!

  5. I’d like Avweb to follow the progress of the FBI’s criminal investigation in this matter. Unlike MCAS and helium leaks, plug-gate could be a deliberate act of sabotage perpetrated in a context of sloppy record keeping. I recall incidents a few years back when there was tension with the machinist union and random seat anchors were found to be mysteriously loose — not a vibration issue. For me the plug disaster is the most indicative of a serious with the company.

    • “For me the plug disaster is the most indicative of a serious with the company.”

      According to what I have read, if believable, the plug for the door opening was removed without documentation indicating such. Someone threw the door on when the airplane had to be moved. Just to prevent rain from getting into the fuselage. No one then knew the plug had to be properly installed for flight. The results are obvious.

      Show me the first A&P Mechanic that has not failed to document a maintenance task and I will show you a unicorn.

  6. Pipe down……It seems to be the case the individual giving the media presentation on the quality improvement effort did not understand the implications of the ‘party agreement.’ Nothing nefarious going on there – just an attempt to produce a positive report in the media, which seems impossible at this time.

    Shucks, it might be another year before the NTSB releases its ‘probable cause.’ BTW, the NTSB is not a regulatory agency.

    • Gave “information which either inaccurate or unknown to the NTSB….” which is in simple terms saying she either lied to the press, or the company has been lying to the NTSB.
      Lots of people lie to the cops all the time, but, almost always, when they are found out it results in heavier sentences….

    • “BTW, the NTSB is not a regulatory agency.”
      That’s right, it’s an investigative service, charged with finding “just the facts, Ma’am”, with no concern for the implications they may have for any of the stakeholders involved. Being a voluntary party to the investigation carries the obligation to stifle the impulse for unilateral corporate damage control. This can be a bitter pill for the more financially competitive elements within a corporation to swallow, but is essential to effective determination of the probable cause(s) of the mishap.

  7. The dirtier the hands of the FAA are, the more they overreact. They know they are culpable. It was cheaper to hire the fox to guard the henhouse than to have FAA inspectors doing what they are hired to do. A “thrifty” FAA knows they could have prevented most of the accidents that can be traced back to delegated oversight. Instead they probably get phone calls from Boeing, et al like “Of course things are fine Inspector Snoozemore, if they weren’t I’d have told ‘ya.”

  8. Those who find government regulation offensive have many allies in congress who love nothing better than keeping bureaucracies like the FAA on a tight financial leash. Thus we have such abominations as Designated Airworthiness Certification because the FAA is cash strapped. Having pulled out the keystone, they’re glad to blame someone else when the arch collapses.

    • There’s not a big bureaucracy in government that is cash strapped because they spent all their budgets on the core missions. They all have plenty of funding and resources for what amounts to political BS and career enhancements.

      Also, for being a bunch of financial tightwads, ALL those folks in DC seem to run pretty big deficits. I’m happy to believe there are people in Congress who are neither willing to do the hard work needed to cut spending nor fix the administrative branch, but let’s get the critique right if we want progress.

  9. A quick tutorial for those here who apparently aren’t aware: the FAA and the NTSB are two different entities.

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