Boeing, Boeing, gone: Plane manufacturer put ‘undue pressure’ on US regulators

© Randall Hill
Engineers working on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner project claim that they were pressured by senior Boeing management to approve parts and designs for the plane, regardless of whether they met standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Four senior regulating engineers told Al Jazeera that they had worked in “an atmosphere of undue pressure” while working on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The engineers said they were subject to “verbal abuse and verbal ridicule” when they tried to enforce policies and practices stipulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and felt like they were “talking to a brick wall” when they expressed their concerns.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was designed to save Boeing money. However, the project was released years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, and the end product may be more hurried than either passengers or engineers would like.

The 787 project was marred with trouble. Al Jazeera found that Boeing’s records indicate two problems arose each month – other than in October 2009, when three came up. By that time, Boeing was already two years behind on its planned reveal date of July 8, 2007.

The engineers who experienced the most difficulty were those authorized to represent the FAA. Things got so bad that they held a phone conference in April of 2010 to express their frustrations with receiving “unprofessional negativity” and working in “a punitive environment.

Some of the engineers told the FAA that Boeing engineers not representing the agency treated those who did as “impediments and bottlenecks.” The phrase “bottleneck” became so ingrained on the project that one Boeing manager introduced an FAA engineer to a colleague as “The Bottleneck.

Even more seriously, one said that a manager had told him that he would be replaced if he continued to insist on making changes that were required by regulation.

The engineers complained to the FAA about the undue pressure multiple times – in 2009, 2010, and 2011 –but no action was taken.

Former Boeing Engineers Union President Cynthia Cole told Al Jazeera that the FAA’s inaction “seems to fall in line with the new Boeing culture,” adding that Boeing and the FAA “may have become a bit too cozy.

If the FAA was acting truly independently, I would have expected the Investigation and Cause Summary to have netted some recommendations for required further actions. ‘Good enough’ does not work for commercial aircraft safety,” she said.