Whistleblower Testifies On Unsafe Conditions At Boeing 737 Factory


Boeing’s manufacturing facility in Renton, Washington, may have been “prioritizing production speed over quality and safety” during the time when two 737 MAX aircraft involved in fatal accidents were built at the factory, according to testimony given by former Boeing employee Edward Pierson at a U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Wednesday. Pierson, who worked for Boeing from 2008 until his retirement in August 2018 and held the position of senior manager at the Renton factory, described the facility during the summer of 2018 as a “factory in chaos” where increasing production targets, substantial backlogs, a lack of skilled employees, new factory leadership and a major supply chain reorganization led to dysfunction and process breakdowns at the facility.

Pierson told Congress that prior to the crash of Lion Air Flight 610, he repeatedly brought his concerns that worsening factory conditions were creating significant safety risks to Boeing senior leadership—including recommending temporarily shutting down the production line—but felt that little was done to address the issues he raised. Following the Lion Air crash, he contacted Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and Boeing’s Board of Directors. After the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, he went to the NTSB, FAA and Department of Transportation where he reported he received “lackluster” or no responses. Earlier in the hearing, FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson stated that the FAA was looking into conditions at the Renton facility.

“No one has asked why two brand-new AOA sensors on two brand-new planes inspected, installed, and tested by Boeing at the Renton plant during the summer of 2018 failed,” Pierson said in his testimony (PDF). “And no one has investigated whether the hundreds of other planes manufactured during the summer of 2018 at Renton—including the currently flying 737 Next Gen airplanes and P-8 military airplanes—have faulty AOA sensors or other production quality issues.”

Wednesday’s hearing was the fifth to be held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the 737 MAX. During the first panel of the hearing, the committee questioned Administrator Dickson along with FAA Aircraft Certification Service Executive Director Earl Lawrence and Technical Advisory Board member Matthew Kiefer on the agency’s response to the problems surrounding the MAX. The complete hearing can be viewed below.

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Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. “No one has asked why two brand-new AOA sensors on two brand-new planes inspected, installed, and tested by Boeing at the Renton plant during the summer of 2018 failed”

    Neither Boeing nor the FAA nor foreign owners or operators asked why 2 sensors needed replacing in the field.
    I would assume that if there was a trend, then a service bulletin or AD on that part would be issued.

  2. The one snarky remark aside, this is a good beginning for the process. Boeing happens to be the best “bad example” of the current unhealthy trend in much of industry today. Beancounters are the current kings and queens of the hill in business and it shows. Boeing has a ton of quality issues on several aircraft production lines. They all appear to tie back to the common thread of hurry, hurry, get that one out the door and work on the next one. This reeks of the lack of quality issues in the US auto industry back in the 70’s. That debacle had the same flavor, low quality products out the door to increase profit. That, of course, lead to the rise of the foreign car market favorability here in the US. Amazon is another example. I read a report this week stating that Amazon has an unusually high injury rate amongst its’ employees. Why? They don’t do anything particularly dangerous. One factor might, might be because, I have heard, they push employees really hard on very high production quotas. The emphasis of the use of the word “might” was intentional as I don’t have any evidence one way or the other.
    Point here is that the rise of the stock market ( good thing ) seems to have emboldened the bean counting crowd into pushing management across the board to push harder to grow the company stock prices. As I said early on, Boeing is the best bad example of that condition.

  3. Once again, the accusing finger points directly at Muilenburg and the Boeing board. Considering that they were aware of the safety issues could actually make this a criminal offense instead of just a civil case. David is correct that profits and stock value have taken precedence over quality control and safety issues. The BOD and upper management gave the message to the rank and file that production is the most important thing. They even tied bonuses for the shop employees to production and profitability, not quality control or aircraft reliability. There is an old Russian saying that a fish rots from the head down. Sounds like it’s time for a new head at Boeing.

  4. Whistleblower? Really?

    I am a teacher at a high school. We have a program that recommends that if a student “sees” something they should “say” something so that these issues can be addressed. Bullying, would be an example. Some students however call this behavior of speaking out, being a “snitch”. These are the students that grow up and write article headlines at AvWeb!