FAA probing whether Boeing employees are being pressured on safety issues
David Ryder/Getty Images

FAA probing whether Boeing employees are being pressured on safety issues

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating whether Boeing employees who are supposed to flag safety problems with aircraft are being pressured by the company not to raise concerns, according to a letter the agency sent to the aircraft maker.

The FAA depends on Boeing employees to carry out the agency’s safety oversight functions during the design and construction of aircraft, a process known as “delegated authority.”

The letter from the FAA to Boeing said the employees designated with those oversight responsibilities must have “sufficient authority to perform the authorized functions” without inference from the company. But it said a survey the agency conducted with some of those Boeing employees found “35% of people voicing concerns and sharing experiences that indicate the environment does not support independence.”

“Boeing’s company culture appears to hamper members of the [safety oversight] unit from communicating openly with the FAA,” said the letter from the agency. The letter was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

The FAA talked to 32 of the 1,400 Boeing employees with delegated authority, according to a source familiar with the survey.

Boeing said it is working with the FAA to make sure that its employees have the independence the agency requires.

“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 [safety oversight] unit members,” the company said in its statement. “We have consistently reinforced with our team that delegated authority is a privilege and that we must work every day to be trusted with the responsibility. … We have provided clear direction that [Boeing safety oversight] representatives must be accorded the same respect and deference that is shown to our regulator.”

But the FAA reported that “interference appears to be a concern” after speaking with Boeing employees.

The anonymous comments included one employee who told the agency, “In the culture, it’s promoted that we’re supposed to be a rubber stamp,” and another who said, “I am very aware that my bringing up issues is not appreciated.” Yet another employee is reported to have told the agency, “I feel undue pressure, but I stand up to it.”

The delegated authority process has come under criticism since two fatal crashes of the 737 Max in late 2018 and early 2019 killed 346 people, raising questions about whether Boeing took shortcuts in the certification process. The aircraft was grounded for 20 months following the crashes. Although the FAA approved the planes to once again carry passengers this past November, not all countries — most notably China — have approved them to fly.

Boeing once had a stellar reputation for safety within the industry, but that reputation was badly damaged by the 737 Max crisis and the investigations that followed the two crashes. In early 2020, about seven months after the second crash, Boeing had to release a trove of internal communications between its employees that showed disturbing concerns about the 737 Max’s safety ahead of its eventual certification.

One described the plane as “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.” Another employee, questioning the simulator that would be used to train pilots to fly the plane, wrote, “Would you put your family on a MAX simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t.” And another worker wrote in May 2018, “I still haven’t been forgiven by god for the covering up I did last year.”

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.