Boeing engineer says safety concerns are ignored inside plane maker

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A Boeing whistleblower testified to a US Senate committee that the aircraft manufacturer “absolutely” has a culture of retaliation against employees who raise safety concerns.

Sam Salehpour, a quality engineer at the company, said he was berated by a manager in response to repeatedly questioning the safety of the 777 and 787 aeroplanes. Separately, he said he found a nail suspiciously embedded in his car tyre.

“I have raised these issues over three years,” he told the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations at a hearing on Wednesday to examine Boeing’s safety culture. “I was ignored; I was told not to create delays; I was told, frankly, to shut up.”

Salehpour was invited to testify before Congress after going public last week with concerns that the 787 could suffer damage over years of use that could cause the wide-body jet to break apart. The US Federal Aviation Administration is investigating his claims.

“There’s a culture of, when you address the quality issues . . . you get threatened,” Salehpour said. “All I’m trying to say is the system needs to be changed.”

Boeing did not immediately have a response to his comments at Wednesday’s hearing. It has previously said retaliation is “strictly prohibited” at the company and said the 787 showed no sign of fatigue during testing.

The plane maker is dealing with the fallout from an accident on a Boeing 737 Max jet in January, when a door panel blew off while in flight. The FAA and US Department of Justice have launched investigations.

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the door panel was missing four bolts meant to attach it to the fuselage, and an audit by the FAA found “multiple instances” where Boeing failed to meet manufacturing and quality control requirements.

Boeing has a company-wide problem with employees fearing retaliation for speaking up, testified Javier de Luis, an aerospace engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who sat on an expert panel that published a report in February criticising Boeing’s safety culture.

De Luis’s sister was a UN interpreter who was killed in a 2019 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines-operated 737 Max that was caused by a design flaw in the plane.

Boeing employees “hear safety is our No. 1 priority, but what they see is that is only true as long as your production milestones are met”, De Luis testified in a separate hearing held by the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “At that point, it’s push it out the door as fast as you can.”

Boeing’s management tells employees to speak up, but those who do “get very little feedback”, he said. “If they insist, they may find themselves on the short end of the stick the next time raises or bonuses or job transfers come up, or even worse.”

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