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Boeing Witholding Numerous Door Plug Documents From NTSB

The NTSB Chair calls Boeing's lack of cooperation into the Alaska 1282 investigation 'absurd.'

The FAA is investigating an incident in which an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 lost a door plug in flight. (Photo: NTSB)

In a Senate hearing on Wednesday, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said that Boeing has failed to hand over key records on work done to Alaska 1282’s now-infamous door plug before it was delivered. Homendy says that the NTSB has requested certain documents and information “numerous times over the last few months” but has not received them.

“Boeing has not provided us with the documents and information that we have requested…specifically with respect to opening, closing and removal of the door and the team that does work at the Renton facility,” Homendy said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

“It’s absurd that two months later we don’t have that,” Homendy commented. “Without that information, that raises concerns about quality assurance, quality management, safety management systems [at Boeing].”

The NTSB is currently trying to determine which Boeing employee worked on the 737 MAX 9’s plug door as part of the investigation process. Meeting with the specific employee may shed light on why they failed to act on the bolts. Both the specific worker who installed the plug door and other Boeing employees may be able to shed additional light on how Boeing’s culture is affecting employees’ thoroughness, decision-making, and attitudes toward work.

A team of 25 people at Boeing’s Renton factory deal with plug doors on 737 MAX 9 aircraft. Though the NTSB has been unable to interview the team’s leader due to medical leave, the names of the other people on the team have not been disclosed, thus preventing investigators from meeting with any workers who might have touched the door plug in question.

An Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 sits in Seattle prior to delivery. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

When asked about the possibility that requested documents simply do not exist, Homendy replied: “There are two options. Either they exist and we don’t have them, or they do not exist, which raises two very different questions — several different questions, depending on which one is the right answer.”

“We have been informed [Boeing has] a procedure to maintain documents on when work is performed, including when door plugs are open, closed, or removed,” Homendy continued. “We have not been able to verify that. And without that information that raises concerns about quality assurance, quality management, safety management systems within Boeing.”

Homendy did mention that this failure to produce documentation “is not for lack of trying,” as the information requested by the NTSB is quite precise. Still, Homendy says the NTSB has gone through texts and pictures regarding the incident but still has not received such information from Boeing directly.

The NTSB has engaged its attorney on the matter. The government must prove that Boeing is acting intentionally to obstruct the NTSB if they want to pursue any charges regarding obstruction of a federal investigation.

Additionally, the NTSB has said that people presented by Spirit Aerospace for interviews did not actually work for Spirit but instead were employed by subcontractors.

A Boeing 737 MAX 9 testbed aircraft (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Neither Boeing nor Spirit has commented on these remarks as of the time of writing.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, highlighted Boeing’s critical role as a major exporter and defense contractor, adding to the importance that the company’s procedures are fine-tuned.

“We need to get this right,” Cantwell said. “We need to help with the investigation so we can find out what in our system needs to be improved.”

Cantwell announced after Homendy’s testimony that she plans to send a letter to Boeing calling for their full, immediate cooperation.

The NTSB is currently investigating the January incident when Alaska 1282’s door plug blew out mid-flight, leading to an explosive decompression, and has since opened both Alaska and Boeing up to multiple lawsuits. A preliminary report on the investigation has already been released, and it was revealed that four bolts that prevent the door plug from falling off were missing.

“Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened. An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory,” Boeing president and CEO Dave Calhoun said in a February statement. “We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers.”

Since the investigation started, the FAA has increased oversight of Boeing, and an audit of the manufacturer’s production and manufacturing processes is underway. As that audit continues, Boeing is looking into the possibility of purchasing Spirit Aerospace, a contractor that spun off of Boeing in the early 2000s to produce various aircraft components as an independent company.

John McDermott

Author

  • John McDermott

    John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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