Experts say Boeing's steps to improve safety culture have helped but don't go far enough

When it comes to safety culture at Boeing, there is a “disconnect” between senior management and workers, and employees responsible for checking the company’s planes question whether they can raise issues without fear of retaliation, according to a panel of outside experts.

The aviation-industry and government experts also said safety training and procedures at Boeing are constantly changing, leading to confusion among employees.

The comments were contained in a report Monday to the Federal Aviation Administration. Congress ordered the study in 2020, when it passed legislation to reform how the FAA certifies new planes after two deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 Max jetliners.

Safety at Boeing is being re-examined after last month’s blowout of an emergency door panel on an Alaska Airlines Max jet. Accident investigators said in a preliminary report that bolts used to help hold the panel in place were missing after the plane underwent repairs at Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington.

The FAA relies on employees at Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers to perform some quality-review on behalf of the regulatory agency. After the Max crashes — which killed 346 people — critics in Congress said managers put undue pressure on employees to approve work done for the FAA.

Boeing said in a statement, “We’ve taken important steps to foster a safety culture that empowers and encourages all employees to share their voice. But there is more work to do.”

The panel of experts said Boeing has made changes that have reduced the chance of retaliation against employees who report safety problems. It added, however, that “the restructuring, while better, still allows opportunities for retaliation to occur.”

The experts said Congress didn’t tell them to investigate specific incidents or accidents, but they noted that during their work, “serious quality issues with Boeing products became public” that amplified their concerns that safety-related practices “are not being implemented across the entire Boeing population.”

The panel made 50 recommendations to Boeing, including coming up with a plan to address the experts’ concerns within six months and give that plan to the FAA. The panel made three recommendations to the FAA.

The FAA said, “We will continue to hold Boeing to the highest standard of safety and will work to ensure the company comprehensively addresses these recommendations.”

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