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4 Takeaways About Boeing’s Quality Problems

4 Takeaways About Boeing’s Quality Problems

Boeing has faced intense scrutiny and pressure since a panel blew off a 737 Max 9 shortly after the plane, an Alaska Airlines flight, took off on Jan. 5. The episode raised fresh questions about the quality of the planes the company produces several years after two Max 8 planes crashed, killing nearly 350 people.

Interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees reveal longstanding concerns about quality, particularly as pressure increased to keep production going in the company’s factories.

Now, Boeing faces an immense challenge as it seeks to make changes that improve the quality of its products and regain its credibility with lawmakers, regulators, airlines and the public.

Here are some takeaways.

Current and former Boeing employees said that for years it felt as if quality took a back seat to keeping planes moving through its factories.

In interviews, former and current Boeing employees described worrying practices, including attempts to circumvent quality procedures. One was “inspector shopping,” in which workers would seek out inspectors willing to sign off on work with little pushback.

Boeing said it did not allow inspector shopping and had increased the number of quality inspectors for commercial planes 20 percent since 2019. Inspections per plane also rose a similar amount over that period, the company said.

Even before the two fatal Max crashes, in 2018 and 2019, Boeing was trying to keep up with its main rival, Airbus, which had introduced a new, fuel-efficient plane a few years before the Max began flying. After the crashes, Airbus gained even more ground, putting pressure on Boeing to catch up once the Max was approved to fly again in late 2020.

Boeing’s work force went through a major turnover because of the coronavirus pandemic. The company lost thousands of experienced employees to layoffs, buyouts, retirements and resignations.

Even though Boeing has since replenished its ranks, current and former employees say a lot of institutional knowledge has been lost, and its workers have less experience than they used to. Boeing’s suppliers, facing similar problems, have also had trouble producing parts at the rate that Boeing wanted them.

Since Jan. 5, the company has faced wave after wave of negative publicity. Its regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, increased inspections at the company’s…

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