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The FAA investigated Boeing's safety culture — and what they found wasn't good

Grace Eliza Goodwin   

The FAA investigated Boeing's safety culture — and what they found wasn't good
  • An FAA investigation into Boeing's safety procedures found 27 areas that were insufficient.
  • The report was commissioned after fatal crashes of Boeing Max jets in 2018 and 2019.

The Federal Aviation Administration spent nearly a year investigating Boeing's safety culture, uncovering a troubling workplace culture that made safety issues difficult to report.

The FAA published the results of its investigation on Monday in a scathing 50-page report detailing 27 areas where Boeing's safety procedures and culture were insufficient.

Congress commissioned the report in response to several fatal crashes of Boeing Max jets in 2018 and 2019.

The report comes during an especially turbulent time for Boeing after a door plug on one of its 737 Max 9 planes blew off in the middle of an Alaska Airlines flight. A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report recently determined bolts that would have held the door in place weren't attached before the plane took off on January 5 — or before it was even delivered by Boeing.

From March 2023 to February 2024, the FAA's expert panel of investigators reviewed Boeing documents, visited its facilities, and interviewed employees at all levels to determine the strength of the company's safety culture. They focused specifically on the engineering employees whose job it is to make sure the company is complying with FAA guidelines under an agreement that allows Boeing to self-certify its own aircraft, which the FAA granted in 2009.

Here are just a few of the more damning findings outlined in the FAA's report.

Major faults in Boeing's safety management systems, according to the FAA:

  • The same bosses in charge of employees' salaries were also overseeing those staffers' safety concerns, creating a culture where the employees hesitated to speak up for fear of retaliation, the panel found.

  • The expert panel found that many of Boeing's employees, at all levels of the company, did not have a clear understanding of the company's safety culture efforts and procedures, nor did they grasp their purpose. Staff also did not know their role in the safety management systems, and were skeptical of the systems' lasting power.

  • The panel said it could not pinpoint a consistent and clear process for employees to report safety concerns. Not only did employees not understand how and when to use the proper reporting channels, but they also chose not to use them altogether. Instead, they simply brought their concerns to their managers, which doesn't allow for a systematic way to address and fix the concerns.

  • The experts found Boeing's documentation of its safety management systems overly complex and constantly changing, which created a culture of confusion among the employees.

  • Boeing has not been successful at retaining key staff members who oversee the self-certification process, and has not been filling open roles quickly enough, the panel said.

The report orders Boeing to come up with an action plan within the next six months to "comprehensively address each recommendation."

The FAA made 53 total recommendations for how the company should not just improve its lackluster safety practices, but bring them up to the legal requirement.

In a statement sent to Business Insider, Boeing said that it has implemented a number of "fundamental changes" since 2019 "to strengthen product safety," but added that "There is more work to do."

"We will carefully review the panel's assessment and learn from their findings, as we continue our comprehensive efforts to improve our safety and quality programs," the statement continued.

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