US officials probing Boeing whistleblower claims on 787, 777

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Bombshell claims made by a Boeing engineer involving alleged assembly defects that threaten the safety of hundreds of aircraft have been escalated and are now under investigation by US authorities.

Attorneys for the whistleblower, Sam Salehpour, accuse the company of putting profit over safety and retaliating against him after he raised concerns by “involuntarily” transferring him to the 777 program.

His attorneys say he was threatened with termination for raising the issues.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the investigation after the claims were outlined in a New York Times article describing charges from Salehpour, who has been employed at Boeing more than 10 years.

“Rather than heeding his warnings, Boeing prioritised getting the planes to market as quickly as possible, despite the known, well-substantiated issues Mr. Salehpour raised,” said attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, who pointed to “critical defects” on nearly 1,500 Boeing planes.

Boeing has come under heavy fire following the claims and has now released detailed defence of the aircraft, saying it is “fully confident” in the Dreamliner and denying charges it retaliated against the whistleblower.

A Senate investigative committee has scheduled a hearing for April 17 titled “Examining Boeing’s Broken Safety Culture: Firsthand Accounts,” said a spokesman for Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.

“Voluntary reporting without fear of reprisal is a critical component in aviation safety,” the FAA said.

Salehpour has pointed to “shortcuts” in Boeing’s assembly processes leading to excessively large gaps between different plane parts that could “ultimately cause a premature fatigue failure without any warning, thus creating unsafe conditions for the aircraft with potentially catastrophic accidents,” according to an FAA complaint released by Salehpour’s attorneys.

“Our client’s concerns about the ‘schedule over safety’ culture at Boeing has been made all the more urgent as a result of the recent incidents involving defects in Boeing’s 737 MAX 9 aeroplanes,” the complaint said.

In its statement, Boeing said the issues raised by the critic “have been subject to rigorous engineering examination under FAA oversight,” adding that retaliation is “strictly prohibited” at the company.

The manufacturer also said that accusations relating to the 777 were “inaccurate.” Boeing said it incorporated “join verification” into production processes after slowing output and halting deliveries for nearly two years in response to employees who identified “conformance” issues on the 787.

“For the in-service fleet, comprehensive Boeing and FAA analysis determined there is no near-term safety of flight concern,” the plane maker said. “Based on the analysis and any future inspection, the 787 will maintain its strength, durability and service life.” The whistleblower allegation comes on the heels of a January Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 flight that made an emergency landing after a fuselage panel blew out mid-flight.

In the wake of that incident, the FAA has frozen Boeing’s MAX production output, while insisting the plane maker demonstrate improvement in operations and quality control. Boeing announced a leadership shake-up last month that includes the planned departure of CEO Dave Calhoun at the end of 2024.

Engine of Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 rips apart

Passengers on a Houston-bound Southwest Airlines flight watched in horror over the weekend as an engine on the Boeing 737-800 appeared to come apart mid-flight.

The flight immediately returned to Denver, Colorado, after crew members noticed a removable sheet of metal covering one of the plane’s engines peeling off during takeoff.

In a terrifying video posted on X by ABC’s chief transportation reporter Sam Sweeney, the metal engine cover can be seen whipping in the breeze like paper as it tore loose.

In a statement, the Federal Aviation Administration said a part of the aircraft called an engine cowling had detached and struck one of the plane’s wing flaps.

Reached by email, a Southwest spokesperson told the New York Post the incident was the result of a “mechanical issue” on the plane, which was manufactured in 2017, FAA records show.

Southwest Flight From Denver Loses Engine Cover

Southwest Flight 3695 returned to Denver International Airport this morning and landed safely after experiencing a mechanical issue. Our Customers will arrive at Houston Hobby on another aircraft, approximately three hours behind schedule,” a Southwest spokesperson told The Post.

“We apologise for the inconvenience of their delay, but place our highest priority on ultimate Safety for our Customers and Employees. Our Maintenance teams are reviewing the aircraft.”

The plane took off from Denver International Airport about 7.49am local time, headed for William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.

The plane returned to Denver just 25 minutes later, touching down just after 8am local time before being towed to the gate.

The FAA is currently investigating the incident.

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