A new Boeing whistleblower alleges serious structural defects in the 787 and 777 planes – Business News (Trending Perfect)

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A Boeing quality engineer on Tuesday made damning allegations that the planemaker took manufacturing shortcuts to increase production rates that left potentially serious structural defects in its 787 and 777 widebody jets.

Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour claimed that nearly 1,000 787s and about 400 777s currently flying are at risk of premature damage and structural failure.

On January 19, Salehpour's lawyers wrote a letter detailing his allegations to Mike Whitaker, head of the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency said on Tuesday it was investigating the allegations.

“We thoroughly investigate all safety reports,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Saleh Burr will speak next week at a Senate hearing convened by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., “to examine Boeing's broken safety culture, with an emphasis on first-hand accounts.”

Salehpour spoke in a virtual press conference with his lawyer on Tuesday. His lawyers said documents would be submitted to the Senate hearing to prove his allegations.

Boeing, facing growing public concern over multiple safety issues, responded with a detailed rebuttal to the 787's claims.

“We are very confident in the 787 Dreamliner,” Boeing said. “These claims about the structural integrity of the 787 are inaccurate.”

Boeing said extensive testing and analysis, shared with the FAA, showed that the issues raised by Salehpour “present no safety concerns and that the aircraft will maintain a service life over several decades.”

As for the claims about the 777, Boeing said: “We are completely confident in the safety and durability of the 777 family. These claims are inaccurate.”

Small gaps left unfilled

Salehpour came to the United States from Iran in 1973 to attend college, and said he worked as an aerospace engineer for 40 years. At Boeing, he has worked since 2007 as a contractor and direct employee.

“I love this country… and I love my work at Boeing and the opportunities I have been given,” he said at the press conference. “I'm doing this not because I want Boeing to fail, but because I want it to succeed and prevent accidents.”

The alleged defects in the 787 Dreamliner relate to small gaps in fuselage section connections that Boeing initially found in 2020. The discovery led Boeing to largely halt deliveries for about two years at an expected cost of $6.3 billion as it worked to correct The bug. flaws.

In August 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the fix developed by Boeing and allowed 787 deliveries to resume.

The safety agency's approval came after an in-depth investigation into Boeing's manufacturing process.

“We did not agree to return to deliveries until we were satisfied that the corrective actions taken by Boeing were effective,” the FAA's Gregor said.

Furthermore, since deliveries resumed, the FAA has inspected every single 787 before issuing an airworthiness certificate that allows them to be delivered to an airline.

“We slowed production and halted 787 deliveries for approximately two years to take our time to get things right and ensure each one meets our stringent engineering specifications,” Boeing said in a statement.

However, Salehpour said on Tuesday that the solution developed by Boeing hides the problem rather than solves it.

Early in the 787 program, from 2012 onward, engineers allowed fuselage sections to be pushed together during final assembly with excessive force before measuring the gaps, he said, “to make it look like the gaps didn't exist.”

Even after delivery stopped in 2020, this continued, he claims, based on his work on the program in 2021.

“I have repeatedly prepared reports for supervisors and management based on Boeing’s own data showing that the gaps in the 787 were not measured correctly,” Salehpour said.

As a result, he said, small filler pieces of material used to fill gaps — known as flashings — were not inserted in many cases.

Because the carbon composite fuselage skin, metal stabilizers and joint fittings expand and contract with temperature changes during flight, such unfilled gaps would theoretically allow the attached parts to move slightly relative to each other.

Over time, this can cause excessive wear and cause premature failure of the structure, Salehpour said. “It could cause catastrophic failure.”

Lamination, which means inserting these small, precisely sized pieces to fill gaps larger than five-thousandths of an inch, or “5 you,” is a widely accepted practice in aircraft manufacturing to prevent such structural stresses.

“Filling is a time-consuming process,” added Lisa Banks, one of Salehpour’s attorneys. “Of course, time is money.”

Saleh further alleged that while drilling mounting holes in the fuselage section connections, Boeing assumed that because of the force used to pull the parts together, there was no gap into which debris from the drilling could fall.

With this assumption, there is no need to separate the sections after drilling to clean debris, smooth the edges of the holes, and reassemble the sections.

“This speeds up the assembly process and significantly reduces the cost,” said the letter sent by Salehpour’s lawyers to the FAA.

But Salehpour claims that the assumption that any gaps were less than 5K and would be free of debris was wrong, based on inaccurate measurements that failed to take into account the fact that the gaps are larger around holes drilled far from the edge of the joint.

“Boeing's use of this approach resulted in cratering debris being left at the interfaces of approximately 80%” of the joints in the forward and rear fuselage sections of the 787s, the letter to the FAA said.

Salehpour said that the 80% data point is a number for Boeing that came from its testing and examination of 28 samples of aircraft manufactured after 2020.

Boeing: Gaps in 787 planes do not pose any danger

Boeing insists that the holes it repaired in production 787 planes during the delivery halt did not pose any near-term safety risk.

However, Boeing said those planes had to be repaired at the factory because they exceeded specifications provided when the 787 was certified, and it could not intentionally deliver an aircraft that did not meet that standard.

As for the previously delivered 787s with these non-conformance gaps that are flying around the world today — about 980 — Boeing has considered whether there is a long-term risk that its airframes could age more quickly and possibly fail. . He concluded that there was no.

This was based largely on tests performed during certification when one of the first 787s built was tested for long-term structural fatigue by attaching strain gauges and loads to the airframe and simulating the physical stresses of repeated flights on the ground.

From 2010 to 2015, that plane went through 165,000 simulated takeoff, decompression, decompression and landing cycles — “about 3.75 times the aircraft’s design life of 44,000 cycles, with no results for fatigue,” Boeing said.

The 787s currently in service around the world fly about 600 cycles per year on average. Boeing said the 787 delivered in 2012 achieved the highest flight cycles of any aircraft delivered to date: about 16,500 flights.

“Based on Boeing's previous fuselage tests for up to 165,000 cycles and extensive data collection, testing, modeling and analysis from 2020 to today – which were shared transparently with the FAA – Boeing currently expects these issues will not change or impact the expected life of the 787 fuselage.” Boeing said on Tuesday.

Boeing said that after its in-service tests and analysis of data, only one component of the 787, the forward pressure bulkhead — a metal part that prevents pressure at the front of the plane — “remains under analysis to understand potential stress corrosion.” ”

Although no fatigue corrosion of the part was observed, Boeing expects to recommend additional inspection during the life of the aircraft to ensure there is no long-term deterioration of this single component.

The FAA is still studying in-service data and has not yet determined whether any future action on fuselage gaps on the 787 fleet flying today is necessary.

“We continue to evaluate the long-term corrective actions taken by Boeing for the 787 manufacturing process as a result of the polish issues,” the FAA said Tuesday.

Jump on 777 panels to make them fit

Salehpour claimed that because he spoke out, he was subjected to retaliation, harassment by management, banned from attending meetings, and even threatened with physical violence by a supervisor.

He was then transferred from the 787 program to the 777 program, where he said he “hopes there will be fewer problems.”

“This turned out to be untrue,” he added.

Regarding the 777 program, he said he found that the new fuselage construction system that Boeing first introduced in 2015 was so poorly implemented that large fuselage panels shipped from Japan were not properly aligned in assembly equipment.

This was the vertical fuselage construction system, developed by Boeing engineers in 2014 inside a nondescript facility in Arlington. The idea was to eliminate the bulky tooling equipment used inside the Everett plant to assemble the large 777 panels into the fuselage sections and automate the drilling and riveting process by which the panels are put together.

It proved to be a major problem, and in 2019 Boeing finally abandoned automated drilling robots as impractical. Mechanics returned to sewing panels together by hand.

However, Boeing kept the new tooling system, which Salehpour says is not fully compatible with parts designed for the old tools.

As a result, the parts were not parallel and the mechanics had to use brute force to connect them together, he added.

“I witnessed severe misalignments when the plane bumped into each other, and they were remedied by using an unlimited and limitless amount of force to fit the holes and misaligned parts together,” Salehpour said. “I literally saw people jumping on pieces of the plane to get them to line up.”

Jumping up and down can distort parts enough that the holes temporarily align, allowing the mechanic to hit a pin with a hammer into the hole, he said.

Salehpour added that this “can cause damage to parts and create risk factors for primary structures.”

Boeing did not respond to the detailed allegations about the 777.

Threats and harassment

At the press conference, Salehpour said the progress was motivated in part by the experience of talking with an engineer friend who worked with him together on missile systems in the 1980s and 1990s.

After the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 — when all seven astronauts died after an explosion, the ultimate cause of which was later traced to defective O-ring rubber seals — his friend told him that during development he had tried unsuccessfully to draw attention to the O-ring's weakness.

He said it made him realize “I have to speak up no matter what it costs my career.”

Debra Katz, another of Saleh's lawyers, said at the news conference that Saleh had repeatedly raised his concerns about the 787 with maintainers, and last month filed a formal ethics complaint internally.

“At first, he was told to shut up. Then he was told he was a problem,” Katz said. “He was then excluded from meetings, and he was excluded from traveling with his team. He was prohibited from speaking to structural engineers. He was prohibited from speaking to mathematicians.” and others to help him understand the data.

She added: “At some point, his boss (787) threatened him with physical violence.” “This was documented. This was in fact in writing. The threat of physical violence was transferred to HR and HR did not discipline the offending supervisor.”

“Retaliation is strictly prohibited at Boeing,” the company's statement said.

“Voluntarily reporting without fear of retaliation is a critical component of aviation safety,” said the FAA’s Gregor. “We strongly encourage everyone in the aviation industry to share information.”

The technical details and documents necessary to properly evaluate Salehpur's claims were not immediately available.

However, Tuesday's news conference opened a new front in Boeing's struggle to calm public opinion and convince the world that its planes are safe.

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