Boeing faces new whistleblower complaint as former engineer says faulty 787 Dreamliner systems could leave passengers without oxygen in emergencies, Business Insider

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A 787 Dreamliner being built at Boeing’s plant in North Charleston, South Carolina. The whistleblower, John Barnett, worked at this plant.
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REUTERS/Randall Hill
  • John Barnett, a former quality-control engineer at Boeing, told the BBC he had found faulty emergency oxygen bottles while working on the 787 Dreamliner in 2016.
  • He said Boeing stonewalled his complaint. He is now suing the company, claiming it sidelined him and pushed him to retirement. The company has denied those allegations.
  • He also spoke of workers at his plant in South Carolina being under intense pressure to meet tight deadlines and keep costs low, which he says jeopardized the quality of the planes.
  • Boeing has also faced multiple employee complaints regarding its internal culture and plane quality as 737 Max planes remain grounded worldwide, and a congressional investigation.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Boeing has been hit by another whistleblower complaint, this time from a former engineer saying that faulty systems in the 787 Dreamliner could leave passengers without oxygen in the event of an emergency.

John Barnett, a former quality-control engineer at the manufacturer’s South Carolina plant, told the BBC in a Wednesday report that while working on the plane, he had found faulty emergency oxygen bottles, and that managers stonewalled further investigations into the issue.

He worked at the Boeing plant in North Charleston for 32 years and retired in March 2017, the BBC reported. He is currently suing Boeing, claiming it hampered his career over his complaints about quality issues, allegations the company denies, according to the BBC.

A Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner taxis past the Final Assembly Building at Boeing's plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, on March 31, 2017.

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A Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner taxis past the Final Assembly Building at Boeing’s plant in North Charleston, South Carolina, on March 31, 2017.
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Randall Hill/Reuters

Here’s a rundown of his allegations, as reported by the BBC on Wednesday:

  • In 2016, he found that oxygen bottles in the 787 Dreamliner emergency oxygen systems were not discharging when they were meant to.
  • These systems are deployed when there a sudden drop in cabin pressure. Masks are meant to drop from the ceiling, which then supply passengers with oxygen from a gas cylinder to prevent hypoxia – the loss of oxygen to the body that can lead to organ damage within minutes.
  • Barnett underwent subsequent tests and found that out of 300 oxygen systems, 75 did not deploy properly. This is a 25% fail rate.
  • Boeing managers stonewalled further investigations into the faulty systems.
  • When he complained about the oxygen systems to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it took no action, saying it couldn’t because Boeing already said it was working on the issue at the time.

Boeing and the FAA have not yet responded to Business Insider’s request for comment on their alleged actions. The plane manufacturer told the BBC that in 2017, it had “identified some oxygen bottles received from the supplier that were not deploying properly,” and removed them from production.

Earlier this month, The Seattle Times reported that Russian carrier Aeroflot formally canceled an order for 22 787 Dreamliner aircraft, valued at $5.5 billion.

Flight attendants demonstrate how to use emergency oxygen masks.

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Flight attendants demonstrate how to use emergency oxygen masks.
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Shutterstock

Barnett also presented to the BBC a culture of constantly being pressured to meet production schedules and keep costs down, suggesting that it has jeopardized the quality of Boeing planes.

He said the South Carolina plant allowed a number of defective parts to be “lost” while tracking it through the production process. The FAA upheld this allegation and noted that at least 53 parts had been lost, and ordered Boeing to take remedial action, the BBC reported, adding that Boeing said it had “fully resolved” the issue.

Barnett told The New York Times in April that he found during his tenure clusters of sharp metal pieces hanging over wiring that commands flight controls. If those shavings ever penetrated the wires, the result could be “catastrophic,” he told The Times.

He added that when he complained, Boeing refused to investigate and moved him to another part of the plant.

Barnett also told the BBC that workers under pressure at his plant fitted to the 787 Dreamliner sub-standard parts from scrap bins – to the knowledge of a senior manager in at least one case.

His accusations fit in with an internal Boeing survey, conducted in November 2016, found that 29% of engineers felt pressure from managers to certify plane systems they designed themselves – suggesting an atmosphere of rushing through the design and certification process. The Wall Street Journal first reported on the survey.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in April 2019.

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Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in April 2019.
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Jim Young-Pool/Getty Images

Boeing has also faced multiple employee complaints regarding its internal culture and plane quality. These complaints ramped up after two deadly crashes by 787 Max planes, which killed a total of 346 people.

In July, a former Boeing 737 Max engineer told BBC Panorama engineers were deliberately pressured to characterize major changes in flight software as minor changes to avoid FAA scrutiny.

In October, The New York Times and Reuters reported on internal messages between 787 Max’s chief technical pilot and another colleague complaining of “egregious” problems with the jet’s automated anti-stall system, which is believed to be behind the two crashes.

Airlines across the world have grounded their 737 Max jets, and Boeing is fighting to get them back in the air. Congress is currently scrutinizing the firm’s role in the production and marketing of the 737 Max.



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Business News

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