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FAA gives Boeing 90 days to establish quality control plan

An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 Max airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, on March 21, 2019.

Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

The Federal Aviation Administration is giving Boeing 90 days to come up with a plan to improve quality control, the agency said Wednesday, less than two months after a door plug blew out of a 737 Max 9 minutes into an Alaska Airlines flight.

Bolts needed to secure the unused door panel on the nearly new plane appeared to be missing, a preliminary investigation of Flight 1282 found earlier this month. The door plug was removed and reinstalled at Boeing’s Renton, Washington, 737 Max factory.

It was the latest and most serious of a series of production problems on Boeing’s bestselling aircraft.

“Boeing must commit to real and profound improvements,” FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said in a release, a day after he met with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun and company safety managers. “Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way, with mutually understood milestones and expectations.”   

Boeing in a statement said it would prepare a “comprehensive action plan with measurable criteria” and that its leadership team is “totally committed to meeting this challenge.”

The FAA is in the middle of an audit of Boeing’s 737 production lines. The agency last month said it would halt Boeing’s planned ramp-up of 737 Max planes until the regulator is satisfied with the company’s quality control systems.

On Monday, an expert panel’s report on Boeing found a “disconnect” between the manufacturer’s senior management and employees on safety culture. The report was required by Congress after two crashes in 2018 and 2019 of Boeing 737 Max planes, which killed everyone on board the flights.

The FAA said Wednesday that it expects Boeing’s plan to include findings from the report and its audit, which it is scheduled to complete in the next few weeks.

Boeing recently started conducting periodic work pauses at its factory to discuss safety and other production issues with workers.

“By virtue of our quality stand-downs, the FAA audit findings and the recent expert review panel report, we have a clear picture of what needs to be done,” Boeing said in its statement.

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