Boeing whistleblower says 787 fleet should be grounded

Correction: Story was updated to reflect the number of panels that will hear testimony on Wednesday. 

Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour said in a Tuesday interview that he thinks all 787 jets should be grounded to allow for proper safety checks of the plane, which has come under fire in recent months following a slew of incidents.

The new interview — which will air in full Tuesday on “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” — comes one day before Salehpour’s scheduled testimony before Congress about the safety concerns at Boeing that he laid out in a complaint filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year.

“The entire fleet worldwide, as far as I’m concerned right now, needs attention,” Salehpour said in a preview of the interview NBC News released Tuesday, when asked about the 787 plane model specifically.

“And the attention is, you need to check your gaps and make sure that you don’t have potential for premature failure,” he added.

In a letter addressed to FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker in January, attorneys for Salehpour said the Boeing engineer “repeatedly reported to Boeing management serious concerns about Boeing’s current production and quality control processes, which he believes are creating potentially catastrophic safety risks.”

The letter outlined problems with the production of the company’s 787 and 777 jets, saying specifically that sections of the fuselage of the 787 Dreamliner are improperly fastened together and could break after thousands of trips. Salehpour told the agency these issues were the result of changes to the fitting and fastening of sections in the assembly line and alleged that the concerns were brushed off.

“I have come forward, and I have extended my neck,” Salehpour said in the interview. “But you know, I’m at peace with myself. Because this is going to save a lot of people’s lives.”

A Boeing spokesperson pushed back on Salehpour’s allegations, telling The Hill that Salehpour’s claims about the 787 were “inaccurate” and not representative of the “comprehensive work” that Boeing does to ensure the safety of the aircraft.

“We are fully confident in the 787 Dreamliner,” a Boeing spokesperson said in a statement. “The issues raised have been subject to rigorous engineering examination under FAA oversight. This analysis has validated that these issues do not present any safety concerns and the aircraft will maintain its service life over several decades.”

The spokesperson also said that while there have been changes to the 787 manufacturing process over the years, they were not the cause of the issues that Salehpour alleged.

Two Senate panels will hear testimony on Wednesday from Salehpour and from three aviation experts, some of whom were involved in a February report that criticized Boeing’s safety culture as “inadequate and confusing.”

The report outlined 50 recommendations to Boeing and said the manufacturer should review and come up with a plan to address the issues within half a year. The experts said the plan should be shared with the FAA, which published the report.

Updated at 11:17 p.m.

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