FAA audit questions Boeing’s production

  • BRYAN CORLISS / Herald Writer
  • Monday, October 30, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News


Herald Writer

An audit has found the Boeing Co.’s design and production systems "are not functioning as intended," a Federal Aviation Administration official said Monday.

Company officials, in turn, announced a series of steps they’re taking to address the problems, which are not believed to have caused any safety problems.

The steps include a new 17-point checklist intended to ensure that specific tasks are being performed by people who have the right training and the right tools to do that job, said Liz Ortiz, vice president for quality within Boeing’s Commercial Airplane Group.

They also include simplifying engineers’ instructions to assembly-line workers, she said.

Current processes "can be overly cumbersome and frustrating to follow," Ortiz said.

The audit was performed last winter after what the FAA called a "series of high-visibility breakdowns" at Boeing plants last fall. Among the 107 incidents identified by auditors:

  • Assembly-line mechanics at the Everett plant reported that fuel tank repairs were being made after the tanks had been inspected, and that items such as sealant tools and rivet guns were occasionally left behind.

  • An airline told Boeing that two of 16 bolts holding the vertical stabilizer onto the tail of an Everett-built 767 were not sufficiently tightened.

    The audit found that some Boeing manufacturing processes were not complete or were overly complex; that the processes were not always followed; that workers sometimes were given inadequate instructions; and that Boeing conducted inadequate inspections to ensure that finished airplanes matched their designs.

    "The findings show that these were not isolated events, that in fact they were systemic issues," said FAA official John Hickey.

    Boeing was aware of the individual incidents reported in the audit, and had taken immediate steps to address them, Ortiz said. The problem was, the company took a Band-Aid approach and treated them as isolated issues without taking a broader look to see whether there were underlying issues connecting them.

    Having the FAA look at the issues with "the second set of eyes … gave us a little different focus," she said.

    But overall, she said, "We stand by the integrity of our quality system." She added that Boeing’s safety record backs that up.

    Ortiz said assembly-line workers aren’t to blame for the problems, and described them as having pride, integrity and a passion for building aircraft.

    "I absolutely do not believe we have people issues," she said.

    Boeing will add 300 inspectors at its plants, and 70 more at its suppliers’ plants, the FAA said. In addition, the FAA is increasing the number of inspectors it has at Boeing plants, and will continue to work with the company for the next two years to determine why the problems occurred and whether any additional changes are needed.

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