Former Boeing inspector alleges ‘scrap’ parts ended up on assembly lines | CNN Business (2024)


A former Boeing quality-control manager alleges that for years workers at its 787 Dreamliner factory in Everett, Washington, routinely took parts that were deemed unsuitable to fly out of an internal scrap yard and put them back on factory assembly lines.

In his first network TV interview, Merle Meyers, a 30-year veteran of Boeing, described to CNN what he says was an elaborate off-the-books practice that Boeing managers at the Everett factory used to meet production deadlines, including takingdamaged and improper parts from the company’s scrapyard, storehouses and loading docks.

A string of whistleblowers this year has raised allegations about Boeing factory lapses, including an official federal complaintfrom a current employeethat Boeing hid potentially defective parts from Federal Aviation Administration inspectors, and that some of those parts likely ended up in planes.

This all comes in the wake of a series of highly public safety issues that have rocked the company.

Meyers’ claims that lapses he witnessedwere intentional, organized efforts designed to thwart quality control processes in an effort to keepup with demanding production schedules.

Beginning in the early 2000s, Meyers says that for more than a decade, he estimates that about 50,000 parts “escaped” quality controland were used to build aircraft. Those parts include everything from small items like screws to more complex assemblies like wing flaps. A single Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for example, has approximately 2.3 million parts.

Most of the parts that were meant to be scrapped were often painted red to signify they were unsuitable for assembly lines, Meyers said. Yet, in some cases, that didn’t stop them from being put into planes being assembled, he said.

“It’s a huge problem,” Meyers told CNN. “A core requirement of a quality system is to keep bad parts and good parts apart.”

Airplanes are highly specified machines with much stricter safety standards than trains and cars. Their parts, materials and manufacturing processes are highly regulated.

Meyers, whose job was to find quality problems at Boeing, says he believes he was forced out last year and says he was given a severance package that he is unable to discuss due to a privacy agreement he signed with Boeing.

Based on conversations Meyers says he had with current Boeing workers in the time since he left the company, he believes that while employees no longer remove parts from the scrapyard, the practice of using other unapprovedparts in assembly lines continues.

“Now they’re back to taking parts of body sections – everything – right when it arrives at the Everett site, bypassing quality, going right to the airplane,” Meyers said.

Company emails going back years show that Meyers repeatedly flagged the issue to Boeing’s corporate investigations team, pointing out what he says were blatant violations of Boeing’s safety rules. But investigatorsroutinely failed to enforce those rules, Meyers says, even ignoring “eye witness observationsand the hard work done to ensure the safety of future passengers and crew,” he wrote in an internal 2022 email provided to CNN.

Meyers has also described his concerns about Boeing’s quality issues to federal investigators, a Senate panel and the New York Times.

In a statement to CNN, Boeing did not dispute Meyers’ allegations. The company said it investigates “all allegations of improper behavior, such as unauthorized movement of parts or mishandling of documents,” and makes improvements when appropriate.

Swirl of controversy

Meyers’ allegations come as Boeing faces a swirl of controversy over its safety culture, including a criminal investigation into whether it misled the FAA over its 2017 certification of the 737 Max. A total of 346 people were killed in two 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019. As CNN reported over the weekend, the Justice Department is nearing an agreement with Boeing which would resolve potential criminal liability.

In January, a door plug blew off of a 737 Max mid-flight, prompting a wave of intense scrutiny of the airplane manufacturer, including federal and congressional investigations. Boeing’s CEO Dave Calhoun has announced he will step down by the end of this year. To address its safety issues, Boeing recently agreed to purchase supplier Spirit AeroSystems.

A Boeing 737 MAX 8 is pictured outside the factory on March 11, 2019 in Renton, Washington. Stephen Brashear/Getty Images Related article Boeing timeline: Inside the air giant’s turbulent journey in recent years

Since January a number of whistleblowers have come forward with fresh allegations against Boeing.

A current Boeing quality investigator, Sam Mohawk, also filed an official complaint last month reporting “a number of non-compliant parts making their way back to the airplanes for installation.” His complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was publicly released by a Senate subcommittee investigating Boeing.

Mohawk’s complaint said the issue of disappearing nonconforming parts continues.“Boeing is still losing parts to this day,” his official complaint reads.

A separate whistleblower, Richard Cuevas, last week made public his concerns that Boeing and its key supplier Spirit Aerosystems used compromised parts and made changes to “reduce bottlenecks in production and speed up production and delivery.”

Pulled from the scrapyard

The pressure from Boeing management to keep assembly lines moving is no secret.The 245-page House investigative report after the 737 Max fatal crashes dedicates an entire chapter to “Production Pressure.”After the January 5 door plug blowout on a 737 Max, the FAA cappedBoeing’s production line speed.

Meyers describes a pressure-packed environment at the Everett factory, where assembly teams competed with each other to find the parts they needed.

Meyers alleges that after hours, workers would ask security guards to unlock doors and sneak parts out of supply rooms, or remove newly arrived components awaiting quality inspections by Meyers’ team.Similar parts destined for a different airplane model were ripe for the taking.

At some point in the early 2000s, Boeing employees began also pulling parts from the company’s scrapyard in Auburn, Washington, located about an hour southof the nearly 100-acre factory buildingwhere Dreamliners were assembled,according to documentationMeyers shared with CNN. Nonconforming parts end up in the reclamation yard, Meyers says, only after beingrejected by three departments:Engineering, procurement, and quality.

Former Boeing inspector alleges ‘scrap’ parts ended up on assembly lines | CNN Business (2)

Workers assemble Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner airplanes at the Boeing Everett Factory in Everett, Washington.

Meyers claims that by around 2002, employees at the reclamation yard became concerned that they would be considered responsible when scrap parts were later found on an aircraft.So, they asked employees to sign for the removals – but their homemade form wasn’t an official Boeing document, which meant the removal was never recorded in the company’s quality management database.

“These are bootleg forms that are not Boeing authorized,” Meyers said.“The procurement organization would go down to our scrap reclamation yard and intimidate the employees there and say we need these parts bad.”

Lack of enforcement

Meyers says he repeatedly referred violations for investigation but found the company’s efforts to look into them lacking.

“Their investigations are about analyzing excuses by process violators, and not taking action against those committing compliance violations,” Meyers wrote in a 2002 email to corporate HR at Boeing.

Former Boeing inspector alleges ‘scrap’ parts ended up on assembly lines | CNN Business (3)

Merle Meyers, right, speaks to CNN's Pete Muntean.

In its statement, Boeing said the quality team Meyers worked on “plays an important role in identifying issues, improving processes, and strengthening compliance in our factories.”

“We appreciate employees who raise their voice and we have systems in place to encourage them to speak up confidentially or anonymously,” the statement said.

Meyers says his Boeing managers did not know how to handle employees who raised concerns, and said that after decades at the company he was ultimately givena list of management grievances with his work, and offered a vague opportunity to improve – or take a cash payout and leave.

“I was given a list of things to correct – it was my behaviors and my practices as a manager,” he said.“So it looked like a personal improvement program … but it had a financial incentive with it – or you can take this money and quit.”

Meyers said he never intended to become a whistleblower but is now speaking with those who ask – including a Senate subcommittee probing Boeing – to generate momentum for change.

“Hopefully we can get this company to heal and be what it was,” he said.

CNN’s Pete Muntean contributed to this report.

Former Boeing inspector alleges ‘scrap’ parts ended up on assembly lines | CNN Business (2024)


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