Boeing Meets With FAA to Lay Out its Improvement Plan

The FAA won’t clear the current production cap and plans to approve every single plane that comes off Boeing’s production lines.

Photo from the NTSB investigation of the Jan. 5 accident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on a Boeing 737-9 MAX
Photo by National Transportation Safety Board via Public Domain Mark 1.0

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Boeing had a marathon meeting with its new quality control guru – the Federal Aviation Administration. 

On Thursday, Boeing officials met with the FAA to discuss the firm’s ongoing safety issues. The nearly three-hour meeting comes after the regulatory agency gave Boeing 90 days to come up with a turnaround plan.

System Update

Anyone with an especially long memory may trace Boeing’s problems back to the twin fatal crashes that grounded all 737 MAX aircraft in 2019. But the company’s woes were kickstarted again in January when a mid-fuselage exit door blew off a 737 Max 9 Alaska Airlines aircraft shortly after takeoff, the first in a series of mishaps and near-disasters. Those incidents prompted a six-week FAA audit of Boeing’s manufacturing processes, which, among 97 instances of alleged non-compliance, revealed upsetting safety lapses such as using everyday items like Dawn dish soap, hotel key cards, and cheesecloth as makeshift tools. Yikes. Still, those issues likely didn’t surprise anyone who took seriously the myriad red flags furiously waved by company whistleblowers.

In January, the FAA also imposed a 38-planes-per-month cap on Boeing’s 737 Max production line. And in February, the FAA also imposed a 90-day deadline on Boeing to come up with a quality improvement plan. That deadline ended Thursday, and Boeing hasn’t exactly been given an all-clear sign:

  • The FAA says it won’t clear the company’s current production cap, and it will insist on approving every single plane that comes off Boeing’s production lines. The agency will also impose a “significant increase” of its safety inspectors at Boeing plants and at those of key supplier Spirit Aerosystems.
  • Boeing says it has added 300 hours worth of training materials for employees and is implementing more “workplace coaches” as well as avenues for employees to voice concerns. Whistleblowers have previously alleged that the company spent years systematically dismantling a safety culture that had previously valued employee expertise and the flagging of safety concerns.

“Systemic change isn’t easy but in this case is absolutely necessary, and the work is never really done when it comes to the safety of the flying public — from Boeing, airlines, or the FAA,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a statement following the meeting. “But we will hold the company accountable every step of the way to make sure these changes happen.”

Turbulence: None of this is doing the company’s bottom line any favors. While the FAA has barred the company from producing more than 38 737 Max’s per month, Jefferies estimates Boeing is only producing around 21 per month. At a conference earlier this month, CFO Brian West stated that the company expects to burn cash overall this year, with a second-quarter loss possibly exceeding the first quarter’s $4 billion figure. In other words, the sky may be falling for the company whose planes started falling out of the sky.