Boeing engineer says safety concerns are being ignored at aircraft maker

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A Boeing whistleblower testified before a U.S. Senate committee that the aircraft maker “absolutely” has a culture of retaliation against employees who raise safety concerns.

Sam Salehpour, the company’s quality engineer, said he was reprimanded by a manager in response to repeated questions about the safety of the 777 and 787 planes. Separately, he said he found a nail suspiciously embedded in the tire of his car.

“I’ve raised these issues for three years,” he told the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations during a hearing Wednesday to examine Boeing’s safety culture. “I was ignored; I was told not to create delays; Honestly, I was told to shut up.

Salehpour was asked to testify before Congress after going public last week with concerns that the 787 could suffer damage over years of use that could cause the widebody to break apart. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is investigating his allegations.

“There is a culture that when you address quality issues. . . you are threatened,” Salehpour said. “All I’m trying to say is the system needs to be changed.”

Boeing did not immediately respond to his comments during Wednesday’s hearing. He previously said retaliation was “strictly prohibited” within the company and that the 787 had shown no signs of fatigue during testing.

The planemaker is dealing with the aftermath of an accident on a Boeing 737 Max in January, when a door panel exploded while it was in flight. The FAA and the US Department of Justice have opened investigations.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board found that the door panel was missing four bolts intended to attach it to the fuselage, and an FAA audit found “multiple instances” in which Boeing failed to meet requirements for manufacturing and quality control.

Boeing has a company-wide problem with its employees fearing retaliation if they speak out, testified Javier de Luis, an aerospace engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who served on a panel that published a report in February criticizing Boeing’s safety culture.

De Luis’ sister was a UN interpreter who was killed in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max in 2019, caused by a design flaw in the plane.

Boeing employees “hear that safety is our No. 1 priority, but what they see is that that’s only true as long as your production milestones are met,” De Luis said during a separate hearing held by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “At this point, we need to push him out as quickly as possible.”

Boeing management asks employees to speak out, but those who do “get very little feedback,” he said. “If they insist, they risk finding themselves at the forefront of the problem the next time raises, bonuses or job transfers come up, or worse.”

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