Whistle warning

How safe are Boeing aircraft?

Published: Monday 15 May 2006

The US Federal Aviation Administration (faa) has reopened a case dating back to 2002, casting serious aspersions on the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing and its key supplier, the Los Angeles-based ahf Ducommun. Three whistleblowers had filed that case contending that several Boeing 737s contained dodgy parts. The FAA had, however, exonerated Boeing and AHF Ducommun.

The case has now been reopened following expert reports and court documents which incriminate Boeing for faulty quality control methods. The reopened case rests on the experts' contention that the government regulators did not investigate the whistleblowers' allegations adequately. These allegations drew from testimonies of Boeing workers that all was not well with Ducommun's methods. Sheet metal parts, which should have ideally snuggled into aircraft skeletons, were hammered into place, they had said.

Boeing has been steadfast in denying these allegations. Even if faulty parts landed on the assembly line, none could have slipped beyond our quality controls," says Cindy Wall, Boeing's spokesperson.

The aircraft manufacturer also has some support from aviation experts. Sheet metal parts are necessarily quite flexible. So if they don't fit perfectly, it's not a big deal to shove them into place, bend them a little bit, push on them and rivet them together, say some of the aviation experts.

But other analysts say that premature cracking cannot be ruled out when factory workers force together parts that are not built according to specified design. Bending and twisting with undue force can introduce more stress, particularly on parts used to reinforce the cabin around doors, they contend.

The three whistleblowers had also alleged that suspected parts had been installed on some 747s, 757s, 767s and 777s and their military equivalents. Their lawsuit will now be heard in the district court in Wichita, Kansas.

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