Boeing seems set to undergo a broad internal overhaul to conform with several safety recommendations handed down by the company’s board of directors.
The recommendations stem from an independent, safety review panel Boeing formed in the wake of two 737 Max crashes.
The board has now approved the panel’s findings, which come after a five-month review.
The board is recommending Boeing “realign” its engineering function so that engineers report directly to a chief engineer, who reports to the company’s chief executive.
That marks a major shift for Boeing, whose engineers currently report up the chain of command within the company’s separate business units, Boeing confirms. Those units include Commercial Airplanes, Global Services and Defense, Space and Security.
The board says the engineering changes will strengthen Boeing’s engineering function and ensure greater emphasis on safety.
The board also urges Boeing to create a “Product and Services Safety” division that would report to senior executives and the board’s newly-formed Aerospace Safety Committee.
Boeing announced formation of that committee today.
The new Product and Services Safety division would review “all aspects of product safety, including investigating cases of undue pressure” and other employee concerns, Boeing says.
It would also oversee Boeing’s “organization designation authorization” (ODA) team – the internal group that performs some certification work under approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Like Boeing engineers, its ODA teams also now report within the company’s separate business units, Boeing says.
Additionally, the board calls for Boeing to broadly review its cockpit designs with the goal of ensuring its cockpits are best suited for today’s pilots.
Boeing’s management has not yet announced any organisation changes in response to the recommendations.
“It is expected the company soon will announce specific actions that will be taken,” says Boeing.
MUCH WORK REMAINS
Safety and industry analysts call the proposed changes positive. But they insist Boeing must thoroughly follow through, and they note other recommendations may arise as other investigations wrap up.
“It’s an improvement, but they’ve got an awful lot of work to do,” says former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member John Goglia, now an aerospace safety consultant.
He notes Boeing is struggling on several fronts, tackling the 737 Max issues, 787 quality concerns and several problems with its KC-46 aerial tanker.
To be effective, Boeing’s new safety unit must bring a safety-first emphasis to the whole organisation, broadly promote its goals within the company and encourage employees to report concerns, he says.
“The question is, will there be actions to follow,” says former NTSB chairman James Hall.
He views Boeing’s move partly as an effort to “control the process” – to get ahead of other recommendations that could come from other investigations. Those include a review of the 737 Max’s certification being conducted by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General.
Aerospace analyst Michel Merluzeau of consultancy AIR thinks the board’s recommendations could spur Boeing to make needed updates to its cockpit and cockpit systems.
“It’s about time,” he says. “I have always thought that Boeing… was stuck a bit behind Airbus in terms of flight deck and flight control philosophy for too long.”
Boeing has a reputation for designing “pilot-centric” cockpits that leave more control in the hands of pilots, while Airbus’s designs rely more on automated systems intended, at least partly, to prevent pilots from performing dangerous manoeuvres.
Merluzeau hopes Boeing consults not just longtime 737 customers like Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines, but also smaller carriers in other regions, where pilots may have less 737 or A320 cockpit time.
“The highest level of competency should not drive the design,” Merluzeau adds. “Unfortunately, the lowest common denominator – that should be one of several considerations in flight deck technology.”