Boeing employees’ safety independence is under scrutiny by FAA

Many company engineers who were surveyed said they couldn’t raise concerns without interference.

By Alan Levin / Bloomberg

U.S. aviation regulators are opening a new review of Boeing after a survey of company engineers found a sizable percentage said they couldn’t raise safety concerns without interference.

A survey conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration from May through July found that 35% of Boeing employees raised issues of conflicts of interest and a lack of independence, according to an Aug. 19 letter from the head of the agency division overseeing the company.

The FAA action is the latest to look at Boeing’s safety practices following twin fatal crashes of the company’s 737 Max. The accidents, tied to a poorly designed flight-control system, led the plane to be grounded for 20 months and prompted multiple investigations.

“Boeing’s company culture appears to hamper members of the ODA unit from communicating openly with the FAA,” said the letter, which was obtained by Bloomberg. ODA refers to Organization Designation Authorization, the group within Boeing that is authorized to make safety decisions on behalf of the government and is supposed to remain independent.

“These concerns require an objective review and further fact finding,” said the letter, signed by Ian Won, the acting head of the FAA office that monitors Boeing. It wasn’t clear how many people were interviewed or how representative it is of the hundreds of Boeing employees who work on behalf of the FAA.

One Boeing employee interviewed by the FAA said other engineers at the company tried to apply pressure. “Yea, that happens all the time from design engineering. They don’t listen and keep pushing,” the unidentified person said in comments that were included in the letter.

Boeing has received the FAA’s letter and is working with the agency on the issue, the company said in an emailed statement.

“We take these matters with the utmost seriousness, and are continuously working to improve the processes we have in place to ensure the independence of the Organization Designation Authorization unit members,” the company said.

The letter was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.

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