Whitaker Describes Boeing Clampdown


FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker Tuesday quantified the agency’s plan to increase surveillance of Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems’ production lines. Whitaker told a House Aviation Subcommittee that about 25 inspectors will be on the 737 MAX production line in Renton, Washington, and about six will be at Spirit’s Wichita plant. Spirit makes MAX fuselages, which are shipped by train to Renton for final assembly of the aircraft.

Those inspectors will try to answer two basic questions the New York Times quoted Whitaker as telling committee members. “One, what’s wrong with this airplane?” he said. “But two, what’s going on with the production at Boeing? And there have been issues in the past, and they don’t seem to be getting resolved, so we feel like we need to have a heightened level of oversight to really get after that.” The FAA has also urged Boeing and Spirit workers to contact either of two anonymous tip lines to report quality control issues as the agency clamps down on the companies.

Meanwhile, Boeing has slowed production of the aircraft while it and Spirit go through about 50 fuselages that may have improperly drilled holes. Flying magazine reported the flaw was flagged by a Spirit worker. “While this issue could delay some near-term 737 deliveries, this is the only course of action given our commitment to deliver perfect airplanes every time. The days we are setting aside in the 737 program will allow time for our teams to complete the inspections and, if needed, perform the necessary rework,” Boeing VP of Commercial Airplanes Stan Deal said in a memo to workers.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Kenneth Holden: “Where will FAA get qualified inspectors?”

    Article as posted does not indicate any shortage of qualified FAA inspectors needed to task this mission.

    Or am I reading disinformation?

    “For now, the FAA has added 26 inspectors — 20 at Boeing’s Renton, Washington 737 MAX production facility, and six at Kansas-based contractor Spirit Aerosystems — as it tries to get a handle on exactly what more needs to be done.

    Whitaker said he is “confident” that his agency has the tools it needs to address challenges facing the aviation system. ”
    Russ Niles ?

  2. “More FAA inspectors are going to be needed as a result, Mr. Whitaker added, as the regulator is sending 20 inspectors to Boeing’s 737 facility in Washington and six to a Spirit factory in Kansas.”

    Also, “under review by an outside auditing firm, is the long-standing FAA practice of delegating some critical safety task inspections to Boeing”, Whitaker said.

    “The FAA still cannot reliably determine how many flight standards safety inspectors it needs and where for commercial aviation oversight, which could be causing some staffing shortages, the Transportation Department’s inspector general’s office (DOT IG) says in a recent audit report.”

  3. WOW… I can’t imagine what this is costing Boeing. Boeing doesn’t have enough money to survive an FAA intrusion like this. Can you imagine being a line worker under a microscope every day for the foreseeable future. It must do wonders for quality, production and moral. Unbelieveable.

    • Intrusion? Hardly. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that once the FAA arrives in force that they will learn a lot more about other issues with the assembly processes. Line workers know all too well what the issues are, which by the way are not responded to by management in a positive manner. FAA is going to find hundreds if not thousands of assembly issues. I went down this road with another aircraft manufacturer in a previous life. I said to my coworkers hundreds of times, if the FAA ever saw what we were doing, assembling our aircraft, they would shut us down in a minute.

      • +1. I saw a similar set of circumstances. And if the customers had known what was going on, well, there goes the market share.

      • I hope you’re right and I’m wrong. I’ve just seen to much of employer retaliation after disclosure of issues followed by lack of promised support from those agencies that alleged they would support after disclosure. People will protect their career’s. They have families to support.

  4. While there is the possibility of punitive inspections, the other half of that concern is that “were in this together”. I doubt that the line workers and everyone else at Boeing are happy about the fact that somewhere and somehow what their work process isn’t producing their desired end, and worse, that it is actually threatening people’s lives.

  5. A hundred more inspectors that do not know what they are looking at is not going to help anything. That refers to both FAA and Boeing inspectors. Seen too much of that as a “line worker”.

  6. The NTSB report is as dry and informative as a popcorn fart. Nowhere does it actually say missing bolts caused the door to fly off. That interpretation is left to the reader. Two key conclusions can be made though. First, the fuselage arrived with the plug in place and bolted. Second, SPIRIT employees did the rivet rework WITHIN Boeing’s facility. Glaringly, the report does not say whose employees removed the plug, and whose employees replaced the plug. We do have two Boeing employees texting about buttoning up the insulation and interior panels though, with an accompanying photo showing the plug in place WITHOUT bolts. So WHERE ARE THE BOLTS that were removed? You’d think they would by lying there in a magnetic tray, obvious to all that reassembly is not yet complete! Why hide them, thus removing the last best chance to save someone? Texting is a bad way to govern work flow. It lacks documentation, process steps, and signoff boxes.

    • “Nowhere does it actually say missing bolts caused the door to fly off.”

      That’s normal for a NTSB preliminary report. It just states the facts and evidence found so far. Conclusions and explanations are reserved for the final report that comes out a year later.

  7. Finding qualified inspectors won’t be a problem. The processes are essentially the same as any other aircraft manufacturer, with the possible exception when it comes to proprietary processes, even still if the inspector can read, there won’t be a problem.

    As for the missing bolts. Curious thing here. There is a step in the layouts which require an inspector to visually witness the installation and torquing of those (and any other bolts on the aircraft). Even still there is an inspection requirement during the clear to close (CTC) of the interior panel. These are at minimum, two steps to follow by QA.

    As for the improperly drilled holes. They are saying where they are, which might suggest they are close tolerance holes that don’t meet spec. Possibly a match drilled set. 50 aircraft might suggest a tooling issue, which would require a Production Engineer to come up with a valid fix. A hole check would solve this issue, but then again, if the holes are not to spec and bolts installed, then QA comes along to validate the installation, they would never know the holes would be too large, without a hole check.

  8. A few things: It’s not really putting production workers under a microscope. Many welcome the attention on problems and issues they have observed and reported that have not been addressed. Been there, done that with in-house inspection & scrutiny at similar levels as this, in a couple of facilities where I was a manufacturing engineer. Also “anonymous tip lines” can be Feelgood features but are typically enabling a snitch culture and will do nothing to change the culture of middle management types emphasizing throughput.

    Inspection determines compliance with stated requirements and adherence to process parameters. As has been stated over and over, you can’t inspect quality into any product. The manufacturing process determines the end result, inspection determines what is shipped to the customer.

  9. An inspector and an inspection finding a defect is one thing. Finding what is causing the defect(s) in the first place is something altogether different. And then having to come up with a solution so the defect does not happen again will be an issue.

  10. Could it be that the increased costs to manufacture a defect free airplane will be such that Boeing cannot make a profit at the price an airline is willing to pay for the airplane?

  11. Unfortunately the issue at Boeing, at least to me, does not appear to be a safety or manufacturing issue but rather a cultural matter. This was the company that designed and built the 747 in less than three years in the age of slide rules. Why? Because of leadership, pride, and tenacity. They were Boeing and they could so they would. End of story. People were filled with pride not about the company they worked for but a company they were a part of. That came from the top and permeated the organization all the way through. The same could be said about Southwest Airlines because Herb Kelleher had the magic to get his employees to buy into his outlandish vision and those employees, everyone of them, loved the man and would take a bullet for him. There is no line on a resume or job application for leadership skills. Like salesmanship, they are innate in a person’s being, like their commitment to a common goal with their peers. Today, we see examples of what happens with a lack of leadership all around us and without it, companies, universities, and countries lose their way.

    • Randy, well said. I can’t imagine how this once-proud company would have felt back in the day when they were the world’s gold standard, knowing that someday they would need to have inspectors babysit them, even from Alaska Airlines. I know several former Boeing employees who witnessed the dramatic decline in corporate culture, leading to low morale and quality control. This came from the top.

    • Could not say it better. In a totally different industry I worked for a company with a CEO that put employees first. That promoted a great work ethic and high morale. When he retired the new CEO worked to line his own pockets, damaged the company to the point that we got bought out by another company. The new company’s philosophy was do everything to keep the stock holders happy and the employees be damned. Production fell, quality of work declined sharply. The best people left as soon as they could, I took early retirement.

  12. “One, what’s wrong with this airplane?”

    Better question: What’s not wrong with this airplane or any in the MAX series?

  13. It’s the culture, driven by management. They can inspect all they want, the finance clowns have ruined Boeing. Took away retirement, huge incentives to management driven by the stock price and the union employees don’t suffer any consequences for poor quality. Work for Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and Spirit. They all have terrible management at the top. Suppliers are squeezed to the point of bankruptcy driven by Boeing management. The pressure on DERs by upper management driven by financials is ridiculous. I would start looking at how the fuselage is pressure tested during manufacturing if they still perform this at Boeing. Used to be every aircraft, but I’m sure they deleted the test.

  14. The problem at Boeing is Not as much in the assembly chain, but more in management and the board room. When these decision makers are bean counters and not aviation experts, this problem is always predictable. Put the CEO, CFO and the board members families on the first 100 hours of flight after any new aircraft design or major change, then you would guarantee there will never be another mfg QC lapse. Boeing needs an upper mgt and administration “culture change”. If you make a great product, profit will follow, but this short sighted “make money first” as the #1 priority instead of safety and quality as job one, you’ll always eventually fail, or kill innocent people. The entire MCAS idea was a compromise to save training expense. Now look what “standing on a dollar to pick up a dime” has cost the company, let alone the grief to the families of the dead. And this was completely avoidable. A plane should be stable and fly straight and level once trimmed and with no control surface inputs. MCAS violated that basic design rule, because money and stock value was more important to the CEO and management at Boeing. Relying on software to maintain neutral stability of a passenger airliner is beyond anything any aeronautical engineer design would put in their system. Maybe in a fighter jet, but never in a passenger aircraft.

  15. ” A plane should be stable and fly straight and level once trimmed and with no control surface inputs.”

    How does MCAS change that? The problem was that MCAS consistently trimmed the plane to climb (due to incorrect inputs) – not to fly level. Runaway trim, in other words. Fix it by pulling the breaker and hand flying. Trim it out manually, haul back on the yoke till you’re in the same steep climb as the accident aircraft, then take your hands off the controls – what happens? The plane levels, then dives, then climbs again, eventually settling into straight and level flight – without “relying on software to maintain neutral stability”.

    The general concept of MCAS was fine,; the implementation (relying on a single input, lack of pilot education) was poor.