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‘The decisions you’re making are going to end with a smoking hole in the ground’: Inside the Boeing catastrophe

Simon Calder’s Travel

Ray Goforth had rarely seen one of Boeing’s experienced flight simulator instructors lose their cool.

It was around 2013, and the American aerospace giant was preparing to close down the simulator facility at its historic home near Seattle and move those machines more than 2,700 miles across the country to Miami. That meant laying off the small crew of veteran instructors – who, it just so happened, had recently joined the labor union SPEEA.

But one instructor, named Willy, was worried about more than his job. He knew that Boeing’s own engineers would frequently drive over from their offices nearby to test out the quirks of aircraft they were building. Without such easy access, what future problems might be missed?

“These pilots are… super calm under pressure,” recalls SPEEA’s executive director Ray Goforth, who sat in on the negotiations, in an interview with The Independent.

“But [Willy] lost his temper, which was very surprising, and he yelled at them: ‘I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but the decisions you’re making are going to end with a smoking hole in the ground.’”

That conversation came back to Goforth’s mind in 2019, when Boeing was forced to suspend production of its 737 Max airliner after two crashes in which flawed manoeuvring software overrode pilots’ input and ploughed their planes into the Earth, killing a total of 348 people.

“Willy was right,” Goforth remembers thinking. “When you start throwing that experience away, you don’t know what you’re breaking.”

A bouquet of flowers is left at the site of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash (Getty Images)

Today Boeing is mired in the deepest crisis in its history after a string of serious safety failures that have horrified passengers, grounded numerous planes, and cost tens of billions of dollars.

Once considered the jewel of American manufacturing prowess, the company is under close scrutiny by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and has been forced to eject several executives, including its CEO Dave Calhoun.

In January, an Alaska Airlines flight narrowly avoided disaster when a door plug – that is, a metal panel that replaces an optional exit door – suddenly blew out at 16,000 feet. Though no one was killed, a preliminary investigation found that the door plug appeared to be missing four key bolts.

And on Wednesday, the US…

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