The head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has slammed Boeing for failing to provide investigators with basic information as part of the agency’s inquiry into the 5 January in-flight failure of a 737 Max 9’s door plug.

“Boeing has not provided us with the documents and information that we have requested numerous times over the past few months, specifically with respect to opening, closing and removal of the door [plug], and the team that does that work at the Renton facility,” NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy told US lawmakers on 6 March.

“We don’t have the records. We don’t have the names… It’s absurd that two months later we don’t have that,” she adds, speaking during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

B737 prod-2018-renton-c-Boeing-970

Source: Boeing

NTSB chief Homendy says her team still does not know who at Boeing removed the Alaska 737 Max 9’s door plug prior to delivering the jet

Homendy’s comments follow the NTSB’s release on 6 February of a preliminary accident report saying “safety critical” bolts intended to secure the failed door plug were not attached when the plug blew out. Boeing received the plug as part of the fuselage, supplied by Wichita’s Spirit AeroSystems.

Before delivering the jet to Alaska Airlines in October last year, the plug was removed at Boeing’s Renton site to allow Spirit to complete rivet rework. The removal suggests Boeing workers did not install the bolts when replacing the plug. The NTSB’s investigation is ongoing.

On 6 March, Homendy also said the NTSB has “engaged our attorneys” because Spirit failed to disclose that technicians who performed the rivet rework were not employed by Spirit, but rather by three other firms. Those others were engineering services provider AeroTec, aerospace staffing firm Strom Aviation, and “Launch”, also an apparent staffing firm.

“That information was not told to us by Spirit… [but] was told to us by through the individuals being interviewed that contacted us directly,” Homendy says. “It was a surprise to us.”

Neither Boeing nor Spirit immediately responded to a request for comment. Boeing has repeatedly insisted it is practising “transparency” with investigators.

Over and over on 6 March, Homendy expressed frustration about Boeing not providing information critical to understanding why the door plug failed, saying NTSB investigators still don’t know basic details.

Asked who opened the door plug, Homendy says, “We don’t know… and it’s not for lack of trying”.

Jennifer Homendy NTSB

Source: Leah Walton/NTSB

NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy

She says a Boeing team of 25 people and a manager in Renton oversee 737 doors.

“The manager has been out on medical leave. We have not been able to interview that [person],” Homendy says. “We’ve asked for the names of the other 25 people… Why we don’t have those names today, two months later, is really disappointing.”

The NTSB “thinks” it knows the date the door plug was removed but has been unable to confirm that detail with Boeing.

Boeing and Spirit have faced significant heat following the 5 January incident, which prompted NTSB and FAA investigations and congressional calls for action. On 26 February, a separate review panel released a report highlighting numerous alleged quality concerns at Boeing.

The FAA on 28 February gave Boeing 90 days to explain how it intends to address the issues.

Homendy says investigators have been unable to verify basic details about Boeing’s system for documenting work, and that the company has not provided records specific to the door plug being opened and closed.

“Either [those records] exist and we don’t have them, or they do not exist,” she says, adding that Boeing has been unable to find some records.

The NTSB also requested from Boeing, but has not received, security camera footage of the Renton site. “All their security camera footage is erased after 30 days, and overwritten,” Homendy says.