Herald Staff and Associated Press
SEATTLE — Boeing Co. has stepped up security at its Renton plant after discovering suspicious wire damage in up to 10 737 jetliners in final assembly, the company confirmed Thursday.
Company spokeswoman Sandy Angers said Boeing discovered seven incidents of wire damage that are "not common in the normal course of manufacturing." That prompted the company to look back at several earlier incidents, which have now also been deemed suspicious.
No similar damage has been reported at the Everett factory, Boeing representatives said.
Angers declined to give details of the damage, citing an ongoing investigation, which has been expanded to include the FBI.
Each aircraft showed one incident of damage, but the damage was found in different places in each plane, Angers said.
The company notified the Federal Aviation Administration of the incidents earlier this week, the same day the FAA was informed by a whistle-blower on the plant floor, FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said.
Kenitzer said his office passed the complaint on to the FBI, because tampering with an aircraft is a federal crime.
Incidents in which employees are suspected of causing intentional damage to airplanes are rare, Kenitzer said. The last incident was reported in Seattle in 1990. Boeing officials were not aware of it ever happening at Everett.
Boeing and FAA officials said the damage was easily detected during functional testing, a phase of assembly in which employees check and double-check each airplane’s systems.
The same kinds of tests are performed at Everett, said Russ Young, the chief spokesman for the factory. They’re designed to find any defects in the planes, whether they were caused by accident or, in this case, on purpose, he said.
It would be highly unlikely that damage of this sort would go undetected until the plane was in service, Kenitzer said.
"It’s not a safety threat, but it does cause a little bit of disruption to the assembly as they replace or repair those wires," Angers said.
The disruption has not caused the commercial airplane maker to miss any deliveries of new aircraft, she said.
Boeing has added security personnel to the assembly plant, Angers said.
The twin-engine 737 is Boeing’s most popular plane, with more than 3,900 delivered.
The Renton assembly plant is one of Boeing’s busiest, rolling out about 24 737s and two or three larger 757s a month. Including administrative workers, the final assembly building has about 1,800 employees, Angers said.
Angers said she spoke with employees at the plant Thursday morning, and said they and union officials were "very upset."
"The overwhelming majority of our employees take great pride in the type of work that they do and in the high-quality product that they produce," Angers said. "And if this damage proves to be intentional, there are a lot of people that would be very, very hurt."
She said the company would take "swift and immediate action" against that person or group of people.
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