All 787 Dreamliners should be grounded, Boeing whistleblower says

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All 787 Dreamliners should be grounded, Boeing whistleblower warns
WATCH: A Boeing engineer says he has been harassed and threatened by the company after he raised serious concerns about the safety of its planes, and that all 787 Dreamliners should be immediately grounded. Jennifer Johnson looks at how Sam Salehpour doubled down on those claims during a U.S. Senate hearing – Apr 17, 2024

A Boeing whistleblower is urging the planemaker to ground all 787 Dreamliners currently in operation around the world, warning that the long-haul jets could “fall apart at the joints.”

Sam Salehpour, a quality engineer at Boeing, went public with his concerns about the Boeing 787 and 777 jets last week. In an exclusive TV interview with NBC Nightly News, Salehpour doubled down on his allegations and called for all Dreamliners to be pulled from service and checked for small gaps in the fuselage.

“It’s as serious as I have ever seen in my lifetime,” Salehpour told NBC’s Lester Holt, adding that he would not put his family on a 787 jet.

“The entire fleet worldwide, as far as I’m concerned right now, needs attention. And the attention is, you need to check your gaps and make sure that you don’t have potential for premature failure.”

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Salehpour claims that Boeing took shortcuts while building the 787 and 777 jets to save money and reduce bottlenecks during the assembly process. He says sections of the main body, or fuselage, of the 787 Dreamliner are not fastened together properly and that little gaps exist where the parts are joined. Under the stress of repeated flying, the fuselage could break apart mid-air, he warned.

“The plane will fall apart at the joints,” he told Holt on Tuesday.

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When Salehpour initially went public with his concerns, he said he saw Boeing mechanics using excessive force to push sections of the fuselage together “to make it appear like the gaps didn’t exist,” during 787 assembly. Under normal manufacturing procedures, small pieces of metal, called shims, are inserted into gaps to fill space. But Boeing allegedly cut corners by not always inserting these shims.

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Allowing such gaps to be unfilled could, over time, allow sections of the fuselage to move relative to one another — drastically reducing the lifespan of the plane. As the aircraft undergoes thousands of trips, the stress on the joints could one day “cause a catastrophic failure,” Salehpour said.

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The engineer claims that when he raised these issues internally with Boeing, they retaliated against him and moved him out of the 787 program to work on 777 jets. There, he says he witnessed similar unsafe assembly practices that he claims also jeopardize the safety of the 777.

“I literally saw people jumping on the pieces of the airplane to get them to align,” Salehpour said at the time.

Salehpour filed a formal whistleblower complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in January, around the time Boeing came under intense public scrutiny when a door plug blew off a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane mid-air during an Alaska Airlines flight.

The FAA said it is investigating his claims, as the agency does with all whistleblower complaints.

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Boeing says it is fully confident in the 787 Dreamliner, adding that the claims “are inaccurate and do not represent the comprehensive work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and long-term safety of the aircraft.”

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The company is also “fully confident in the safety and durability of the 777 family.”

Boeing held a media tour at its South Carolina manufacturing plant on Monday, where reporters heard from two top Boeing engineers who defended the structural integrity of its aircraft.

Production of the 787 had previously been halted by the FAA for nearly two years, starting in 2021, after this exact problem of small gaps existing where plane parts had been joined was raised to the agency. In order to regain FAA approval to deliver new 787 planes to customers, Boeing stress-tested the jet for 165,000 takeoffs and landings, far beyond the recommended lifespan of the plane, and found no evidence it would fail.

The company says it also inspected 689 of the more than 1,100 787s in service worldwide, NBC reports.

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But Salehpour contends that Boeing never fixed the fuselage issue, and instead concealed it from the FAA. Eventually, in 2022, the FAA allowed Boeing to continue delivering new 787s.

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Lisa Banks, one of Salehpour’s lawyers, says she’s heard from half a dozen other potential whistleblowers who have similar concerns with Boeing’s safety practices.

“I think some of them will come forward, but frankly, they’re terrified,” she told NBC News.

As for Salehpour, he says he’s “at peace” with himself “because this is going to save a lot of people’s lives.”

Salehpour testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Wednesday and reiterated his concerns.

“I have analyzed Boeing’s own data to conclude that the company is taking manufacturing shortcuts on the 787 program that could significantly reduce the airplane’s safety and the life cycle,” the engineer said, according to the New York Times.

“Details that are the size of a human hair can be a matter of life and death.”


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