Boeing’s grounding of its entire fleet of 371 737 MAX airliners made headlines recently, and brought with it a drop in share prices.
Many considered this to be just a temporary setback for the aviation giant, but new reports have brought to light worrying practices in the construction of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Boeing’s Charleston factory where the Dreamliner is constructed, which has been in operation for ten years, has recently been the site of intense scrutiny.
Current and former employees have reported that assembly lines are rushed, leading to bad practice, stressed workers, and unsafe planes. Allegedly a culture that values speed over quality has presided over the factory, and impacted the end product. Employees raised concerns over how the planes were built, but these were largely ignored. Even managers were encouraged (ordered) to cover up delays, telling workers to install equipment out of sequence to ensure a plane was completed on time rather than add to the already prodigious backlog of unfinished aircraft.
One technician at the plant has said that the amount of debris he found near electrical systems meant that he was unwilling to fly on the Dreamliner. A safety inspector once found a loose bolt inside an engine, which could have caused a malfunction. Other instances found that tools were left on or in the bodies of planes, including one ladder that was still inside the tail, which could have compromised how the plane handled. Customers have even found seemingly random objects on the planes once they’ve made it to active service.
This actually isn’t uncommon in aviation. Employees are supposed to clean the interior of the aircraft as they work, often with a vacuum, so they don’t accidentally contaminate the planes with shavings, tools, parts or other items that may have gotten in during construction and assembly.
However, none of these incidents appear to have caused any actual major safety problems. But these issues do point towards a larger problem: putting profits before safety.
Boeing has been quick to address concerns, launching inquiries, investigations, and overhauls of their flight systems. They’re ending their famous 737 line, meaning their next design will be entirely brand new. In terms of the Charleston factory, additional resources will be introduced, as well as more rigorous safety checks.
However, the real work with be rebuilding trust of both the public. The pilots that fly Boeing’s planes will also need to be won over, as Boeing has damaged a long relationship that was based on trust. Pilots will remember Boeing’s failures for a long time to come, so the company will need to work even harder to show they’ve improved, learned, and changed.
This won’t be easy. Boeing will need to spend more time communicating with the public at large, focusing on transparency to reassure them that new designs are safer. Likewise, commercial airlines will want assurances that new models will be worth long-term investment.
All aviation companies should maintain an absolute focus on safety. Profits or efficiency don’t matter when lives are at stake.
Read more about how plane design is changing, or learn about how the aviation industry is going to change over the next decade.
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