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Senate Summons Boeing To Testify on Aircraft Safety

Senate Summons Boeing To Testify on Aircraft Safety
April 11
16:20 2024

Until a few months ago, the idea that a new Boeing plane would come apart during flight seemed implausible.

Now a Senate subcommittee has summoned Boeing CEO David Calhoun to testify about the company’s jetliners in an inquiry prompted by new safety-related charges from a whistleblower.

The panel plans to hold a hearing next week featuring Boeing quality engineer Sam Salehpour, who is expected to detail safety concerns involving the manufacture and assembly of the 787 Dreamliner — problems that could create “potentially catastrophic safety risks.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has been investigating Salehpour’s allegations since February.

Salehpour’s concerns, featured in a recent New York Times article, involve alarm over changes to the assembly of the fuselage. That process entails fitting together and fastening giant sections of the fuselage, each one produced by a different company.

Salehpour accused Boeing of taking shortcuts that led to excessive force in the assembly process, creating deformations in the composite material used in the aircraft’s outer skin.

“The Dreamliner was a pioneer in using large amounts of so-called composite materials rather than traditional metal to build the plane, including major sections like the fuselage, as the aircraft’s body is known,” the Times reported. “Often made by combining materials like carbon and glass fibers, composites are lighter than metals but, as comparatively newer materials, less is known about how they hold up to the long-term stresses of flight. Those stresses create what engineers call fatigue, which can compromise safety if it causes the material to fail.”

Salehpour alleges that such problems could create increased material fatigue, possibly leading to premature failure of the composite, according to the Times account. Over thousands of flights, those pieces of fuselage could risk breaking apart mid-flight.

Findings from a recent Federal Aviation Administration audit of 737 Max production will likely raise more questions than it answers about the reliability of Boeing’s production process.

The FAA conducted the audit after a panel known as a door plug blew off a 737 Max 9 during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. It appears that the new Boeing plane left Boeing’s factory in Renton, WA, missing four bolts used to secure the door plug in place.

The agency’s examination identified dozens of problems at Boeing and the supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the fuselage of the 737 Max.

The FAA audit confirmed that Spirit employees used Dawn dish soap and a hotel key card during the 787 assembly process. Spirit officials said the key card was used to check the gap between the seal and the door plug to make sure there was no obstruction, rolling or pinching. Workers had previously tried other tools that either were too brittle or did not bend enough.

After Spirit workers were spotted using the key card, the company’s engineers developed a similar tool for its employees to use moving forward. The new device, which is green and square, is meant to be a scraping tool, but Spirit smoothed its serrated edges and rounded its corners.

But as flyers continue to resist Boeing aircraft, the audit offers little reassurance that Boeing planes are designed and assembled correctly.

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