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Will Boeing 737 MAX probe flow through to Dreamliner?

July 1, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

International airlines are on alert following a report in the Seattle Times that US federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records from Boeing relating to the production of the 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina.

Boeing’s flagship Dreamliner, in both its 787-8 and longer 787-9 version, is in wide use around the world, with the 787-10 variant – the longest of the three, following in their wake.

The Seattle Times mentioned allegations of shoddy work at the South Carolina 787 plant, attributing anonymous sources “familiar with the investigation”.

The paper said the sources told it the subpoena was issued by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) which is also conducting an investigation into the certification and design of the 737 MAX.

According to the paper, the 787 subpoena significantly widens the scope of the DOJ’s scrutiny of safety issues at Boeing.

The paper added that the DOJ had declined to make any official comment and a Boeing spokesman said the company didn’t comment on legal matters.

The report follows the recent discovery of a microprocessor flaw in the computer of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 plane, contributing to a further delay in the plane’s return to service. The earliest the 737 MAX could be certified to fly is now close to the end of this year.

US federal prosecutors are probing the development of the 737 MAX, including a new flight-safety control system known as MCAS, after two fatal crashes (Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air) which killed a total 346 people and led to worldwide grounding of the plane.

MEANWHILE, Bloomberg has reported that Boeing and its subcontractors have relied on temporary workers “making as little as USD 9 an hour” to develop and test software.

Bloomberg said these workers often came “from countries lacking a deep background in aerospace – notably India”.

B737 MAX 9 in Thai Lion Air livery

Last week, Boeing stated: “The safety of our airplanes is Boeing’s highest priority. During the FAA’s review of the 737 MAX software update and recent simulator sessions, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) identified an additional requirement that it has asked the company to address through the software changes that the company has been developing for the past eight months.

“The FAA review and process for returning the 737 MAX to passenger service are designed to result in a thorough and comprehensive assessment. Boeing agrees with the FAA’s decision and request, and is working on the required software.

“Addressing this condition will reduce pilot workload by accounting for a potential source of uncommanded stabilizer motion. Boeing will not offer the 737 MAX for certification by the FAA until we have satisfied all requirements for certification of the MAX and its safe return to service.”

The 737 MAX is built in Renton in Washington. The 787 Dreamliners are built elsewhere; Boeing divides its Dreamliner production between the South Carolina assembly plant and its Everett facility in Washington.

The airline industry is keen for Boeing’s current problems to be sorted so the company can continue making safe and efficient airliners, as it always has. The world has only two major producers of civil airliners – Boeing and its European rival Airbus – and demand for planes is such that both need to be operating smoothly and at capacity.

Written by Peter Needham

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