KIRO 7 EXCLUSIVE: Boeing insider latest to raise alarm over safety of 737 MAX

RENTON, Wash. — A Boeing employee is raising concerns over the company’s safety procedures, echoing reports KIRO 7 has heard from other former workers.

This comes after a new report from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released on Monday found that there is a disconnect on safety at Boeing, and that workers are fearing retaliation if they speak up.


KIRO 7 has been reporting for weeks on the aftermath of a near midair disaster on Alaska Airlines flight 1282 that forced an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon on Jan. 5. A door plug blew off that flight midair, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the plane. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that four bolts that were supposed to hold the door plug in place were actually missing altogether.

KIRO 7 spoke exclusively with an employee at Boeing’s Renton factory who said he’s witnessed policies and procedures not being followed. This is the third person that KIRO 7 has spoken to on this topic, and like many others, this employee fears retaliation or that he could lose his job for speaking up. KIRO 7 is keeping his identity protected for those reasons.

The employee said he is coming forward now because of what happened on that Alaska Airlines flight back in January.

“I would say that after I heard of the door blown off, the first thing that came to mind was some of the things that I had witnessed, and I actually thought to myself was this door was blown off because of what I had witnessed at Boeing,” the employee said.

The employee said it’s important that people, especially the flying public, know what is going on at Boeing.

“There’s a process that makes those planes very safe -- it is important that those processes take place,” he said. “When you see them not taking place, then you’re opening a hole for problems and some of those problems can be disastrous.”

The employee works at the Renton factory where the 737 MAX aircraft are assembled. He said what he’s seen happening between Boeing and Spirit employees concerns him.

“We have a contingent of Spirit mechanics that are handed Spirit defects, meaning they came from Spirit and those defects are handed off to Spirit mechanics to address,” he said.

He explained that in the process of assembling a MAX, some parts are installed to cover up the defect before it’s resolved. He also said it’s procedure to document every part that is removed to get to the original defect.

“A lot of times we’re seeing that those parts that have already been previously inspected and bought off by Boeing QA were not being reinspected once they were reinstalled, because there’s no documentation to go and reinspect them,” he detailed. “Or there’s no knowledge that the part was ever pulled.”

What this employee said he is witnessing is similar to what the NTSB said happened on flight 1282, which is that the door plug was opened by Spirit AeroSystems employees to fix damaged rivets. However, the report stops short of saying who was responsible for failing to reinstall the missing bolts after the work was finished.

“There should be a paper trail saying, ‘I removed five parts,’ lets say, with these part numbers, and then it’s documented after the defect is fixed that once these parts are given an OK to reinstall, they have been thoroughly inspected,” the employee said. “The first thing that came to my mind -- was this is a result of the lack of getting removals? Or the lack of oversight of looking at the finished product by Boeing.”

“I knew of removals not being documented,” he continued. “I knew of it and it happens occasionally with Boeing manufacturing and Spirit manufacturing where the mechanic will fail to get proper removals.”

This employee said it’s dangerous that these policies and procedures are not always being followed.

“Well I’m not saying that the lack of removals was the reason why the door blew out, what I’m saying to you is that can be a result,” he said. “If you’re covering up something with a part that has been taken out, put back in, and then another part covers that part, because there were no removals, how do you know the part that has been covered, has all of its fasteners in it? You don’t. I’ve seen it happen and I could see where fasteners could be missed.”

The employee said things at Boeing have reached a point where he and his coworkers no longer want to fly.

“I’ve had discussions with mechanics that have been there for decades, and we have had discussions where they have said to me, ‘You know, I don’t think I want to fly anymore,” he said. “It wasn’t a statement that shocked me, because I felt it too.”

This employee showed KIRO 7 a document in which he explained that a tool mark wasn’t fixed according to standards.

“This is illegal rework,” he said. “These are tool marks that have should have went to an engineer first. An engineer would have told us what to do. That didn’t happen. This is what is known as illegal rework and it was done by this person, supplier, telling us it’s Spirit. This is telling us it was Spirit Quality.”

He said incidents like this keep happening.

“The old saying was if, ‘it ain’t Boeing, I’m not going,’ and the latest chatter was, ‘if it’s Boeing, I’m not going,’” he said. “We get acknowledgement from the management that they will address it and take care of it but when you see it continually happen, you know that it’s seems to be falling on deaf ears.”

KIRO 7 asked him specifically if he would board a MAX aircraft or allow people he loves to do the same.

“No, not right now -- no,” he answered. “Not the loved ones I can control -- I would highly suggest to those that I talk to not to. Carefully consider whether they want to fly on a plane where processes aren’t being followed, bolts are being missed, doors blowing off, carefully consider.”

KIRO 7 reached out to Boeing for their response to these allegations and they provided a statement saying:

“Boeing continues to take actions to strengthen quality and make its airplane factories more stable and sustainable for the future. These actions include:

1. Hiring more quality inspectors and adding airplane inspections

2. Providing more training for new and current employees

3. Adding new protocol and requirements to document the removal of parts

5. Conducting Quality Stand Downs at each location to listen to employee input

6. Emphasizing the use of Speak Up for employees to anonymously report concerns

Boeing has opened its doors to airline operators to conduct their own reviews, and is fully supporting the FAA’s audit of its production system. Increased oversight also includes our own Internal Audit team. Leadership is working with the team to address all relevant learnings. We take very seriously any allegation of improper work and we encourage this employee and all team members to report concerns to ensure the safety of our airplanes and the flying public.”

KIRO 7 also reached out to Spirit AeroSpace Systems who said, “we remain committed to working as a full partner with Boeing.”