Details Emerge on Cause of Boeing Door Plug Failure

PORTLAND, OREGON - JANUARY 7: In this National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) handout, an opening is seen in the fuselage of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 Boeing 737-9 MAX on January 7, 2024 in Portland, Oregon. A door-sized section near the rear of the Boeing 737-9 MAX plane blew off 10 minutes after Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 took off from Portland, Oregon on January 5 on its way to Ontario, California. | Photo by NTSB via Getty Images

Details are beginning to emerge regarding what may have led to a door plug blowing off a Boeing 737 Max jet during an Alaska Airlines flight in January.

Air traffic safety officials have determined that four bolts critical to keeping the panel in place were not replaced after workers at the Boeing manufacturing plant addressed damaged rivets on the plane’s fuselage.

The Wall Street Journal reportedly obtained internal documents that appear to reveal a dysfunctional production environment, delays resulting from production quality errors, and a culture of pressure to speed up manufacturing likely contributed to the slip-up.

“Is there pressure? Yes and no. We’re still there to do a job,” said one Boeing veteran who was involved with work related to the door plug, per the WSJ. “I have a deadline every day, my team has a deadline every day, so if it gets behind schedule, you have to get it on schedule. Years ago, we weren’t going this fast.”

Among the recent disclosures is a lack of proper documentation on the aircraft involved in the disaster. Reports indicate the fuselage for the plane was delivered to Boeing’s Renton, Washington, facility by its supplier, Spirit AeroSpace.

Workers at Boeing discovered the fuselage had damaged rivets in key structural components, and repairing the damage would necessitate the removal of the door plug. Regulations require documentation of the removal, but Boeing has been unable to produce the required paperwork.

Further complicating the situation were delays in getting the repair work completed. Typical production at Renton of a 737 Max takes anywhere from one to two weeks once the fuselage is delivered. Production on the jet in question was delayed, taking 18 days, 12 hours, and nine minutes to complete.

The aircraft was delivered to Alaska Airlines on October 31, 2023, and began ferrying passengers 11 days later. The door plug failure occurred on January 5, 2024, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

“For years, we prioritized the movement of the airplane through the factory over getting it done right,” Brian West, Boeing’s finance chief, said at a recent investor conference, as reported by the WSJ. “That’s got to change. The leadership team got it in the immediate aftermath of January 5.”

Quality issues and the company’s alleged prioritization of production capacity over safety have led Boeing’s CEO David Calhoun and other senior executives to step down from their roles. Accusations have even arisen that a focus on “diversity, equity, and inclusion” initiatives has led to a lack of regard for safety, as reported by The Dallas Express. Production delays and increasing scrutiny are leading to drastic cuts in output, which are, in turn, causing issues for numerous airlines waiting for new airplanes to be delivered.

United Airlines recently announced that pilots are being asked to voluntarily take unpaid leave in May, as the airline won’t be capable of fielding enough aircraft due to delivery delays. Southwest is also reporting significant changes to expectations of delivery, according to reporting by The Dallas Express.

Boeing is under scrutiny by numerous federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Board, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Calls for third-party safety inspections are increasing, which would restore a policy instituted following two separate Boeing crashes in 2019 and 2020 that killed nearly 350 people.

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