The chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes has laid out initial steps the company is taking to address quality and safety concerns raised by two recent investigations into its 737 Max assembly site in Renton.

In a 12 March message to staff, the division’s CEO Stan Deal said his team is working directly with specific employees flagged by investigators and has stepped up its quality inspections.

The message responds to an recent audit by the Federal Aviation Administration and to a separate inquiry by an FAA-appointed “expert review panel”.

A 737 Max wing tip in Boeing's Renton production site on 15 June 2022

Source: The Seattle Times, Ellen Banner, pool reports

Two recent investigations into Boeing’s 737 Max production site (above) flagged numerous quality and safety concerns

The FAA launched its audit following the 5 January in-flight blow out of an Alaska Airlines’ 737 Max 9’s mid-cabin door plug. Boeing seems to have failed to bolt down the plug, according to a preliminary accident report.

It has additionally disclosed that an audit revealed quality control failures.

In his 12 March staff message, Deal says “FAA inspectors went deep into our Renton factories in January and February to audit our production and quality control. They examined 737 work instructions, monitored mechanics, inspected for defects and more”.

“The vast majority of our audit non-compliances involved not following our approved processes and procedures,” he adds.

Boeing has responded by “working with each employee noted with a non-compliance during the audit, to ensure they fully understand the work instructions and procedures”.

As of 1 March, the manufacturer also started completing “weekly compliance checks for every 737 work cell”. It has also now set aside “time in each shift for mechanics to complete compliance and [foreign object debris] sweeps”.

Boeing plans to complete “additional audits this month of the 737 programme to ensure full compliance”, Deal adds.

The expert review panel’s report – ordered by Congress in 2020 and released on 26 February – alleged that numerous safety concerns still exist within Boeing, including unclear safety-related processes and confusion among employees about safety protocols.

The report found that “our procedures are too complicated, we change them too much and we can do more to connect metrics to the safety outcomes we want”, Deal says.

While Boeing is still addressing the panel’s recommendations, Deal urges staff to “precisely follow every step of our manufacturing procedures and processes”, and to “always be on the lookout for a potential safety hazard or quality escape”.

The employee memo also says Boeing has reduced the amount of so-called travelled work, and has succeeded in “minimising the need for rework of parts coming from our suppliers”.

“This week, we will deploy our safety management system to conduct new reviews of travelled work within our four walls,” Deal says. “We will assess our status in the factory and, if needed, put mitigation plans in place. We will not hesitate in stopping a production line or keeping an airplane in position.”

Travelled work is work completed at a different stage in the production process than is typical. The need for travelled work can arise when some issue – parts shortages or the need to fix a quality problem, for instance – prevent work from being completed at the normal stage on the production line. In such cases, Boeing sometimes keeps the line running to avoid broader delays, and performs the work later.

But doing so can breed more quality trouble, because, for instance, work performed out of sequence can be more difficult or more complex to complete, Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice-president of supplier quality Doug Ackerman said in February.

“When they’re doing rework, they may be doing that rework in a different position, with different tooling… in a different environment than what it was designed,” he said. “Work movement… [was the] number one root cause of the defects we were finding.”