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Boeing Workers Still Scared to Raise Safety Concerns, say FAA-Appointed Experts

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By Lauren Rosenblatt
The Seattle Times

(The Seattle Times) After spending a year interviewing Boeing employees and executives, documenting the company’s safety processes and taking stock of changes Boeing made after two deadly 737 MAX crashes, an expert panel commissioned determined the company had more work to do. online news

Among its many findings, the panel concluded Boeing employees fear retaliation if they speak up about safety concerns, aren’t sure how they fit into the company’s broader safety management system and lack confidence that changes would be made if they do raise concerns.

The 24-member panel released its findings in February, concluding that Boeing’s safety culture needed to substantially change to keep up with “the public interest in aviation safety.” The report found there was a “disconnect” between what Boeing senior management said about safety and how Boeing front-line employees felt safety was prioritized at the company.

The report came weeks after another incident involving a Boeing plane reignited congressional calls for change at the company. In January, a piece of fuselage blew off a Boeing 737 MAX 9 plane, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the aircraft and reopening questions about the manufacturer’s process and attention to safety.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing with three members of that Federal Aviation Administration-appointed panel to determine what else federal regulators should do to ensure Boeing aircraft are safe to fly. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairs the committee.

The panel’s 53 recommendations serve as “an important catalyst for us” for future aviation legislation, Cantwell said Wednesday.

She pointed to legislation that has already been passed and legislation still under consideration — namely the FAA reauthorization bill — but said she doesn’t want to stop there.

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“There is more to be done to implement the recommendations of the report,” Cantwell said.

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“Flying commercial remains the safest way to travel, but understandably recent incidents have left the flying public worried,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ranking member for the Commerce Committee, said in opening remarks on Wednesday. “The perception is things are getting worse. The public wants the FAA and Congress to confront perceived risks in order to restore confidence for flyers.”

But, Cruz continued, Congress “should not rush to legislate just to legislate.”

The three experts that represented the 24-member panel Wednesday, were:

Tracy Dillinger, manager for safety culture and human factors at NASA;

Najmedin Meshkati, a professor in the University of Southern California’s aviation safety and security program; and

Javier de Luis, a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s department of aeronautics and astronautics.

For de Luis, the topic of the panel is also personal. His sister, Graziella de Luis Ponce, died in the 2019 Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Speaking Wednesday, de Luis said it seems that Boeing leadership now understands it has to make changes, referencing recent comments Chief Financial Officer Brian West made to investors after the panel blew out in January. At that time, West said there were changes that needed to happen.

“The leadership team got it in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 5,” de Lui said. “I would have thought that they would have gotten it five years ago.”

Following the report’s release in February, Boeing had 90 days to issue a plan to address the results and recommendations. That deadline is set for May 28.

©2024 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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