back to article Controversies aren't Boeing away for aircraft maker amid claims of faulty oxygen systems and wobbling wings

Ailing Boeing has been hit with a double whammy of recent controversies alleging safety flaws with its 737 NG (not the fatally flawed Max) and the 787 Dreamliner. Boeing whistleblower John Barnett claimed to the BBC this morning that up to 25 per cent of the emergency passenger oxygen systems aboard the 787 were defective and …

  1. Alister Silver badge

    "Every passenger oxygen system installed on our airplanes is tested multiple times before delivery to ensure it is functioning properly, and must pass those tests to remain on the airplane."

    This is bullshit. The part that is found to be failing is the release mechanism on the oxygen cylinders. These are a one-time-use pyrotechnic device which, by its design, cannot be tested once installed. So those particular items installed on the aircraft have never been tested. They may have tested others of the same batch, but even that is doubtful.

    1. Neil 32

      I was thinking that this morning when I read the BBC story. And isn't the release mechanism basically a bit of string - there was an (in)famous case of some expired (but still full) cylinders being transported in the cargo hold of a plane where the strings were just taped in such a way that they could activate... And did with sadly deadly consequences.

      I'm assuming in this case it's whatever the bit of string is meant to pull on is failing (or the string coming loose, perhaps)?

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Happy

        Look, you’re nit-picking. Those Aldi party-poppers are a perfect drop-in replacement for the original deployment mechanism, and at a fraction of the price!

    2. macjules Silver badge
      WTF?

      Would that not be like saying that fire extinguishers should not be tested since the one-use compressed air bulb can not be tested once installed? Just saying, like.

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Where did I say they shouldn't be tested?

        Boeing claim they have tested all the devices on the aircraft. This is patently not the case. They may have tested some of the same device, but not the ones currently installed.

    3. Benson's Cycle

      It depends what you mean by "tested".

      Even a multi-use safety device (like brakes) could fail in the interval between last used and an emergency. Most safety critical parts have some sort(s) of nondestructive tests which can be used to establish that they are in the nominal state prior to use. Carbon dioxide cylinders can be weighed. Automotive fuses and some safety interrupts are transparent so the element or mechanism can be visually inspected.

      But the safety should be the result of an integrated test system that is part of the entire manufacturing chain - which is what ISO 9000 and other quality systems are about.

      If the systems are failing there is a problem somewhere along the line. The critical control points of all manufacturing processes need to be examined to see if they are doing their job.

      The Boeing spokesperson is not necessarily wrong in a systems context. Whether the testing is appropriate is another matter.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        safety should be the result of an integrated test system that is part of the entire manufacturing chain - which is what ISO 9000

        ISO 9000 (and 9001) doesn't care about quality - it cares about *process*. As long as you have a documented process and proof that you've followed that process the ISO auditors won't care if the stuff you make has a 99% failure rate.

        Your customers will care and you, very shortly, won't have any left. Or a company.

    4. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Joke

      These are a one-time-use pyrotechnic device which, by its design, cannot be tested once installed.

      Maybe they ARE testing some of them prior to mounting them and that that is the reason they end up not working when required.

      Like Trump when he tested his matches and lighters the other week.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "implemented corrective actions"

    In other words, the whistle-blower was right, and he was right to blow the whistle.

    That is what happens when cost and schedule get top priority over security. I hope that not too many people risk dying because of some zealous beancounter.

    1. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: "implemented corrective actions"

      Do Boeing management fly their own aircraft on business/pleasure - that'll be the true test of confidence in the Product.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: "implemented corrective actions"

        If I were the CEO of a company with union workers, I would be VERY careful regarding how much I trusted the output of those workers, particularly during a strike.

        1. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: "implemented corrective actions"

          >If I were the CEO of a company with union workers....

          Boeing has been implementing a policy of outsourcing for some years now. The old school method of building planes with an integrated factory full of unionized workers is yesterday's way of doing things.

          Some years ago my daughter spent a summer working in one of their plants in Seattle (a 737 plant) as part of her Aeronautical Engineering degree. What she reported to me was that workforce was 'hollowed out', it consisted of a mixture of entry level hires and older people close to retirement, many working under contract. This mirrored my experience with engineering in my own field; somehow we lost the plot and engineering became an expendable job resulting in people choosing other fields and leaving us chronically short of engineers, especially experienced ones. Companies both covered up the problem and compounded it by a ruthless program of outsourcing. I have no idea how well covered Boeing is today but I'm never happy when flying in one of their newer planes these days.

          (...and no, Boeing wasn't hiring. No need for anyone with (in UK parlance) a First. She got a job elsewhere.)

          1. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

            Re: "implemented corrective actions"

            > workforce was 'hollowed out', it consisted of a mixture of entry level hires and older people close to retirement, many working under contract.

            Quite.

            This is a striking pattern across most industries across the Western "hemisphere". Farming, for example, mostly comprises kids on temp-or-gonowhere jobs plus middle-aged farmers, with no new farmers coming up.

            I put it down to a combination of :

            1/ linearly growing tech/machine capabilities removing further and further need for Journeymen workers (wherein the bulk of the larger learning is done), and

            2/ exponentially growing toxic HR/admin seeking to reduce actual man management down to a single budget line plus someone external to blame (via SLA).

      2. jonathan keith Silver badge

        Re: "implemented corrective actions"

        Don't be silly. That's what Gulfstreams are for.

  3. MiguelC Silver badge

    737 NG

    NG as in "No Good"? Sounds right, although not exclusive to this model. These days it seems Boeing needs to convince us of any model's safety....

    (Backronyms are tough, though. Years ago Honda had a difficulties with the development of its revolutionary NR motorcycle. It took so long to deliver that the joke went that NR meant "Never Ready")

    1. spold Bronze badge

      Re: 737 NG

      No gas (as in O2)

    2. seven of five

      Re: 737 NG

      Not Grounded.

      yet.

  4. chivo243 Silver badge
    Coat

    Once a year

    on average I fly once a year, I will be paying close attention to the aircraft manufracturer of my flights.

    There must be an emergency parachute in this coat somewhere!

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Once a year

      "manufracturer" - was that deliberate, or a particularly apt typo? Whichever - bravo :-)

  5. Persona Bronze badge

    I've just spent 12 of the last 24 hours flying in a 787. I'm most grateful this story came out after we had taken off. Had we heard about it before take-off my wife would have driven me mad fidgeting and worrying about it for the entire 12 hours. A cabin depressurization "might" have been a relief.

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      If it helps, just remember the solution to the battery fires on the 787 was to put the battery in a titanium box so the fire couldn't get out of it...

      1. Butler1233

        This is the same 787 which has *official guidance* to turn the plane off and on again every 248 days else the flight controls *stop working*...

        1. jimbo60

          That is an Airbus A350 issue: need to reboot flight control systems every 149 hours or they fail.

          The Boeing issue was with Dreamliner generators that needed to be restarted every 248 days. If not, the generators will fail, causing the plane switch to battery and then bring backup wind turbine generators (!) online.

          The Boeing issue dates to 2015. The Airbus issue still existed this year, though apparently there is a software fix available, it just has to get rolled out.

          I think the Airbus issue sounds a bit more concerning.

          1. Bite my finger

            So amusing. I was reading thru all the Boeing-bashing, wondering how much of it is due to Euro-centrism, then lo and behold, someone actually ascribes an Airbus issue to Boeing. So I'm guessing it's quite a lot.

            1. BinkyTheHorse
              Unhappy

              Or, you know, it could be that there are so many problems with Boeing's planes recently that people started associating all avionics issues with Boeing. But no, it must be because those dirty Europeons are disparaging Great American Enterprise™. Never mind that 2 planes crashed and hundreds of people died.

              One day we may have discussions on such topics without the flag waving, but - very clearly - it is not this day.

              1. Bite my finger

                So the next time an Airbus crashes, I get to trash European Enterprise, because y'know, people died?

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Airbus aren't the issue here

                  Given Boeing's insistence that every Airbus - regardless of model - be grounded IMMEDIATELY whenever one has a problem but they repeatedly shrug off attempts to suggest there might be anything wrong with [I]their[/I] aircraft despite the number of problems reported*, you might suspect that they might be just a little bit scared.

                  And if you add in the way they take even the US Government to court whenever they lose out on an aircraft bid (aerial tankers & transports, Marine One, etc etc etc), you might begin to think their products are not quite as wonderful as they like to make out.

                  *Following the 737 landing on the M3 motorway near Kegworth and Boeing's rapidly-issued advisory concerning the very vague and extremely unlikely possibility that there was a tiny chance that the fire warning lights might be wired up arse-about-face (so No1 would light if Engine 2 had a fire and No2 would light if Engine 1 had a fire), somewhere upwards of 25% of the airframes then in service were found to have fallen foul of this "tiny chance".

                  Anon because my previous employer doesn't like it when we talk about such things.

          2. Ochib Silver badge

            The wind turbine is otherwise known as a RAT

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_air_turbine

          3. Butler1233

            Ah bollocks you're right. I must have got the two confused, but I did a quick Google and found something which suggested it was correct.

            This article from the Seattle Times I think is the one that threw me off.

            https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/faa-orders-787-safety-fix-reboot-power-once-in-a-while/

          4. Richard Plinston Silver badge

            > I think the Airbus issue sounds a bit more concerning.

            It would be if flights lasted 150 hours.

            1. seven of five

              Apparently, there were airlines which booked the planes back to back so the crews did not bother to shut down the ´bus during crew handover - will be airborne in two hours anyway...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Safety or Profit, you can only pick one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I don’t think that’s true - you can always bump up the price for more profit.

      But I don’t think their offering was any better than competitors to be able to bump up the price, so they cut corners in what could not be seen.

      And spent a little on greasing the right FAA palms.

      PS: this is a very good case of why non-political, non self governance regulation is necessary. Do note American readers of a Red affiliation, but then again some of them do think people dying is the way it should work...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I should have said protect profits plus you don't really make profits on something you have already sold someone unless it's regular maintenance contracts. It's a sad state of affairs really.

    2. macjules Silver badge
      FAIL

      You are Dennis Muilenburg and I claim my free 500 Ethiopian Airlines airmails.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
        Unhappy

        I suspect Ethiopian Airmiles went down ins smoke a little while ago

  7. HildyJ
    Devil

    So what?

    Who needs an oxygen mask when the plane nose dives into the ground or the wings fall off?

    1. jaywin

      Re: So what?

      Well, when you put it like that!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So what?

      Next you'll be telling the life jackets are useless if the plane explodes.

      1. HildyJ

        Re: So what?

        Since their deployment mechanism is passengers, it at least gives them something to do before they die.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So what?

        Life jackets are just generally useless. The chance of surviving a ditching to be able to use them are remote. When Ethiopian 961 ditched (then cartwheeled and broke up), some of the survivors drowned because they had put on their lifejackets, but inflated them before leaving the aircraft.

  8. Thicko

    "Boeing South Carolina is strictly driven by schedule and cost," he told the Beeb. Boeing denies his claims, let me cogitate. Whistleblower risks all to inform world.... And Boeing denies all. Who should I believe. Well I'm not a daft as a brush Brexiter so I go with the whistleblower I suppose, unless Mr Gove can persuade me otherwise!

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      WTF?

      Really? Brexit? WTF has this got to do with Brexit? What's wrong with people that they have to bring Brexit into completely unrelated discussions?

  9. Marty McFly
    Facepalm

    Union vs. non-union

    Of course, the sharp stick poked specifically at the South Carolina production facility would have nothing to do with the workers there being non-union. Because, you know, only the Seattle based union workers actually know how to put a plane together.

    And riiight.... In Seattle Boeing is NOT driven by schedule and cost. Take as long as the union wants to build a plane and spend as much money as you want. Sure, I believe that. Scheduling & costs are only an issue in South Carolina.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Union vs. non-union

      Ummmm - no one mentioned unions, did they? What is your point, except "Unions baaaaaaad"?

  10. Strahd Ivarius

    Nothing new...

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/20/business/boeing-dreamliner-production-problems.html

    "A New York Times review of hundreds of pages of internal emails, corporate documents and federal records, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, reveals a culture that often valued production speed over quality. Facing long manufacturing delays, Boeing pushed its work force to quickly turn out Dreamliners, at times ignoring issues raised by employees."

    (article dated April 2019)

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unsafe at any altitude

    At times like this it's appropriate to quote the words of Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing president, chairman and chief executive officer, 30th April 2019 with reference to the 737 MCAS issue

    "Boeing followed the same design and certification process it has always used to build safe planes"

    Yet with things such as the rudder actuator reversal issue on 737's in the 1990's, the 787 lithium battery issue, the 787 engine fire suppression issue, the 737 MCAS debacle, the 737 pickle fork cracks and the 787 oxygen systems it is clear Boeing are incapable of safe design because they really do not know what that actually entails.

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Unsafe at any altitude

      Do not know *anymore*. They used to. Not anymore. :-/

  12. Chris G Silver badge

    Boeing, Boeing....... Gone?

    Another company that has obviously been thinking it's too big to fail, they may have a surprise coming to them if they don't get sorted rapidly.

    Or it could be too late, what other skeletons are waiting to fall out of closets?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Boeing, Boeing....... Gone?

      They haven't been keeping their pension funds up to date. Sorry that's the one we find out about after they go bump.

    2. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

      Re: Boeing, Boeing....... Gone?

      > too big to fail

      Since we're talking aircraft, perhaps "too big to fall"?

  13. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Not much new here

    https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2010/12/20101214104637901849.html

    Note the date. That was substandard fuselage parts with forged documentation being used regardless on the 737NG lines in the 1990s, beaten into shape to fit, cosmetically covered up and paperwork falsified by Boeing management to cover it up.

    The FAA outed the whistleblowers within weeks in the early 2000s. Boeing denied everything and official investigations found nothing...... yet 2 years ago there was a multimillion dollar settlement between Boeing and the supplier about those very same non-existent substandard parts.....

  14. sbt Silver badge
    Coat

    That's quite a pickle

    For some reason reports of fuselage cracking always reminds me of the DH 106 Comet. Which didn't end well. Still, it's been almost 70 years since those issues were found; if Boeing haven't worked out how to prevent it by now, they'll never get it.

    Mine's the one with the pickle spoon in the pocket. -->

  15. the Jim bloke Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I used to be concerned that we were still flying in Fokker 100s

    from a company that went bankrupt and stopped building them over 20 years ago..

    Now, I need to be worried if its a recently built aircraft

  16. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    unexpected cracks

    So, um, where exactly are cracks expected ?

  17. Waseem Alkurdi Silver badge

    That awkward moment when fiction becomes fact

    I'm currently reading Airframe, a 1996 Michael Crichton novel. Although the plot revolves about a fictional competitor to Airbus and Boeing, called "Norton Aircraft", it strikes me that the plot is roughly identical to Boeing's present drama, although a little reversed.

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: That awkward moment when fiction becomes fact

      Great book that. Michael Crichton had a knack for looking at issues from a different angle and turning them into a good thriller. Think Andromeda Strain, Prey, A State of Fear, et al.

  18. WereWoof

    Sad

    It saddens me that a once great company that made some truly iconic aircraft (think 707 and 747) has come tho this state of affairs :/

  19. Gra4662

    Bring back the “am I going down” website

    I remember the “Am I going down” website in the early 2000’s, you would put in where you we’re flying and the company and it told you the expected chances of dying.....

    Now it just links to www.boeing.com. What a pickle (fork) Boeing are in

  20. David Roberts
    Coat

    If Boeing went bust......

    The whole airline industry would be in deep shit because of the loss of production capacity.

    Does the USA do nationalisation of key industries?

    If not, how would you keep production going?

    I suppose Amazon, Microsoft and Google could form a consortium to take Boeing over and implement their core business values.

    Thank you. The one with the train tickets in the pocket, please.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: If Boeing went bust......

      "I suppose Amazon, Microsoft and Google could form a consortium to take Boeing over and implement their core business values."

      Thanks for that thought - it reminds me that things can always get worse!

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