Former and current employees at a Boeing plant in South Carolina that produces the company’s 787 Dreamliner claim the factory is overrun by “shoddy production and weak oversight that have threatened to compromise safety” – a revelation that surfaces as Boeing is under fire over a separate aircraft, the New York Times reported Saturday.
The paper said a 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 of the North Charleston plant, revealed “a culture that often valued production speed over quality.” According to the paper, plant employees described defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations across “nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints” filed with federal regulators.
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 company’s 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.”
In a number of cases, the paper said a former quality manager at Boeing, John Barnett, “discovered clusters of metal slivers hanging over the wiring that commands the flight controls.” Barnett told the Times that if those “sharp” slivers “penetrated” the wiring, the result could be “catastrophic.” Barnett filed a whistle-blower complaint with regulators, according to the paper.
“As a quality manager at Boeing, you’re the last line of defense before a defect makes it out to the flying public,” Barnett told the Times. “And I haven’t seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.”
In a statement sent to the plant’s employees and provided to CNN Saturday, Brad Zaback, a site leader at the plant and general manager of the 787 program, said the Times’ report “paints a skewed and inaccurate picture of the program and of our team (at the plant).”
Zaback, who said the Times declined an invitation to visit the plant, said “quality is the bedrock of who we are,” adding that the plant delivers “the highest quality airplanes.”
Still, the Times reported other employees also claimed the plant faced serious quality issues, but said they faced performance penalties and harassment for raising concerns.
Another former employee, Rich Mester, told the Times he also found problematic objects in planes produced at the plant. Mester, a former technician who reviewed planes before they left the plant and who the paper reports was fired, said he had found “tubes of sealant, nuts, stuff from the build process” during his time with the company.
Debris found in planes “has cost Boeing at other plants,” including their Everett, Washington, plant, where the company built the KC-46 tanker for the Air Force, according to the Times.
CNN reported earlier this month that the Air Force stopped accepting deliveries of the tanker and refueling aircraft after debris was found inside some of the planes.
An Air Force official told CNN earlier this week that some already delivered planes will be sent back to the factory for another round of inspections, which will involve removing panels to conduct the inspections.
In a statement to CNN, Lynn Lunsford, a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, said “Safety is the FAA’s top priority. We thoroughly investigate whistleblower complaints and take action if the allegations are substantiated.”
CNN’s Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.