Boeing has started forming a team to lead a detailed assessment of product quality, a move coming in response to an issue that forced US regulators to ground 171 737 Max 9s 10 days ago.

The company has named retired US Navy admiral Kirkland Donald to lead the team and to be a special advisor to chief executive David Calhoun, effective immediately, Boeing said on 16 January.

“Admiral Donald and a team of outside experts will conduct a thorough assessment of Boeing’s quality management system for commercial airplanes, including quality programmes and practices in Boeing manufacturing facilities and its oversight of commercial supplier quality,” Boeing says. “His recommendations will be provided to Calhoun and to the Aerospace Safety Committee of Boeing’s Board of Directors.”

Boeing's Renton 737 production line

Source: Boeing

Following the 5 January incident, US regulators alleged Boeing has not complied with quality and safety regulations

Donald is now board chair of naval shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries. He served as a submarine officer in the US Navy for 37 years, the last eight of which he worked as director of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion programme, a job involving ensuring the safe operation of the Navy’s nuclear-powered warships.

“Admiral Donald is a recognised leader in ensuring the integrity of some of the most complex and consequential safety and quality systems in the world,” says CEO Calhoun. “I’ve asked him to provide an independent and comprehensive assessment with actionable recommendations for strengthening our oversight of quality in our own factories and throughout our extended commercial airplane production system.”

“He and his team will have any and all support he needs from me and from across” Boeing, Calhoun adds.

The company declines to provide details about who else will serve on the review team.

Boeing advisor retired admiral Kirkland Donald

Source: Boeing

Retired US Navy admiral Kirkland Donald is currently board chair of naval shipmaker Huntington Ingalls Industries

Boeing hired Donald as it faces a fresh wave of intense scrutiny. On 5 January, an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 suffered the in-flight failure of a door plug – an event that left a hole in the side of the jet. No passengers or crew were seriously injured, but the Federal Aviation Administration responded on 6 January with an order effectively grounding 171 Max 9s with those plugs globally, pending reviews.

The FAA has since said it is investigating Boeing’s quality processes and that it will not lift the grounding until reviewing more information from Boeing. The agency has also alleged that Boeing failed to adhere to inspection- and quality-related federal regulations. Boeing receives 737 fuselages, including the door plugs, from Wichita’s Spirit AeroSystems.

Boeing has in recent years been dealing with numerous quality issues involving the 737 Max.

It has also already taken numerous steps to improve quality and safety.

In the wake of 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019, Boeing said it was overhauling its safety programme. It created the new role of chief aerospace safety officer, a position held since the start by Michael Delaney, and formed a new panel on its board of directors called the Aerospace Safety Committee.

Boeing also realigned its engineering structure so engineers report to a chief engineer rather than to business leaders within its separate business division.