Workers at a 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina have complained of defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations.
New 787 Dreamliners at the Boeing plant in North Charleston, S.C. When unveiled in 2007, the Dreamliner was Boeings most important new plane in a generation and an immediate hit with carriers.CreditCreditRandall Hill/Reuters
“Safety and quality are at the core of Boeings values – there is nothing more important than that. The 787 program has delivered 823 airplanes to more than 76 customers since its launch. As Boeing marks 10 years in North Charleston, our more than 7,000 Boeing South Carolina teammates are producing the highest levels of quality in our history. And, we are seeing this translate across our work and the in-service performance with our customers. We test our airplanes and verify components are fully operational, and when we find a component that is not, it is replaced and tested again. This is core to our quality system, as it is for the industry. I am proud of our teams best in-process quality of production and stand behind the work they do each and every day.”
In the wake of two tragic crashes that led to the widespread grounding of Boeings 737 MAX airplanes, The New York Times reports that poor practices at a South Carolina factory could raise questions about the safety of the companys 787 Dreamliner plane as well.
According to the Times Natalie Kitroeff and David Gelles, several current and former employees at Boeings Dreamliner factory in North Charleston, South Carolina described an over-hurried assembly line struggling to complete aircraft on time, resulting in potentially dangerous shortcuts.
The Times reported several instances of debris and tools being left on board Dreamliners coming out of the factory, with possible consequences for the safety of the planes. A former quality manager at the factory described loose metal shavings left over from the assembly process hanging perilously close to the planes flight control wires, which could damage those controls, according to the report.
The report comes as the company is dealing with the aftermath of two deadly crashes of its 737 Max aircraft, which have drawn attention to the companys production and safety standards. The Times noted that “there is no evidence” that the issues raised in the plant — which was celebrated as “a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub” when it opened in 2009 — “have led to any major safety incidents.”
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Another technician at the plant told the Times that the amount of debris he found near electrical systems meant that he was unwilling to fly on the Dreamliner owing to the safety issues, a detail highlighted in a tweet from the Times finance editor David Enrich. “I never plan to fly on it,” he reportedly said.
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Another former Boeing technician described finding other pieces of loose debris on Dreamliner, including “tubes of sealant, nuts, stuff from the build process,” according to the Times. The report cites other instances of parts and tools left on planes, including a ladder and a string of lights inside the tail of a plane, which could threaten the planes control surfaces.
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Some airlines expressed concerns about Dreamliners from the North Charleston factory as well. According to the report, the CEO of Qatar Airlines sent a video to the factory in 2014, expressing disappointment and concerns about delays and flaws in Dreamliners assembled there. The Times noted that the airline subsequently only purchased Dreamliners assembled in Boeings Everett, Washington factory.
The Times pointed out that, while there were many incidents of loose debris on Dreamliners from the North Charleston factory, the planes continue to have an excellent safety record, and none of the incidents appear to have caused any actual major safety problems.
“The allegations of poor quality are especially offensive to me because I know the pride in workmanship that each of you pours into your work every day,” Zaback added. “I see the highest quality airplanes – airplanes that meet rigorous quality inspections and FAA standards – deliver on time on a regular basis from Boeing South Carolina, where they perform exceptionally well in service for our valued airplane customers around the world.”