Boeing vows to strengthen plane safety

June 28, 2024 | 18:00
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Confronting its safety challenges head-on, aircraft manufacturer Boeing has insisted that its planes are getting safer.
Boeing's 737 Max final assembly
Elizabeth Lund, SVP of Quality at Boeing

At a press conference at the company’s 737 production site in Washington on June 25, Boeing's senior vice president of Quality Elizabeth Lund outlined the company's approach to mitigate risks and incidents.

Immediately following a door plug coming off an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 jet flight due to missing bolts in January, Boeing ordered its engineering team to identify aircraft components and systems that could cause accidents.

Since 2018, a series of high-profile incidents, including two deadly 737 Max crashes overseas, and the explosive decompression incident in January that left an Alaska Airlines 737 Max flying without a section of its fuselage, have raised significant questions about the safety culture at the company, which was once renowned for its engineering excellence.

The National Transportation Safety Board traced the incident to missteps by Boeing. During production, Boeing employees removed the plug so workers for fuselage supplier Spirit AeroSystems could fix defective rivets. When replacing the plug, Boeing did not bolt it back in place.

Lind said that the fuselage came in from the supplier and when coming in the factory initial load, there were five non-conforming rivets. These non-conforming rivets in and of themselves did not create a safety hazard, but they were non-conforming, and they needed to be fixed.

“A defect entered the system from our supply chain. The defect travelled throughout our final assembly. And then there was a lack of compliance with our processes by using the correct documentation,” Lund said.

The company now requires that all jets undergo end-of-line checks of those critical systems immediately before delivery.

"We have added end-of-line inspections for critical systems, reinforced compliance to removal processes in production, updated training and improved clarify of mid-exit door work instructions, initiated steps to reduce travelled work coming into Boeing's factories, processed findings from in-service fleet inspections, and engaged with airline customers on best practices," she added.

Before on-the-job training, Boeing factory employees undergo a foundational training regime where they learn the basics of their factory tasks before moving to the production line. Every employee who comes out of foundational training gets assigned a mentor with more experience on the factory floor, Lund said.

"Boeing is also trying to streamline its production processes and instruction documents to make them easier for new hires to learn," she said. “We're using AI to go from engineering English to more-clear popular English with fewer words to say simple things that are super easy to understand.”

Boeing strengthens safety after accident

To eliminate defects in the manufacturing chain, Boeing said it has increased supplier oversight, improved foreign object debris, part and tool control plans to ensure adherence to work instructions, and institute approval before shipment from suppliers.

Part of that work includes sending more Boeing inspectors to its own suppliers to ensure that parts, like the fuselage produced by Spirit AeroSystems that was implicated in the Alaska Airlines incident in January, are defect-free before they even reach Boeing property.

To elevate safety and quality culture, safety management system is deployed fully across all facets of operations, safety and quality events are conducted to generate improvement ideas, first-line leader development is strengthened, and employees are further encouraged to report and involve.

“We have seen up to an 80 per cent reduction in defects since implementing these changes," Lund said.

Six key performance indicators are being established to monitor production health to provide real-time production system insights, and define criteria that will trigger corrective action and safety risk monitoring: employee proficiency, notice of escapement rework hours, supplier shortages, total rework hours, travelled work, and aircraft ticketing performance.

"We are committed to ensuring safe, high-quality aircraft and a safe workplace; strengthening our workforce and culture for lasting change; restoring production stability and delivering on our customer commitments; and rebuilding trust one great aircraft at a time," Lund said.

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By Nguyen Huong

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