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FAA panel finds Boeing safety culture ‘inadequate and confusing’

Boeing’s safety culture was criticized on Monday as “inadequate and confusing,” despite the plane manufacturer’s changes following two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, according to a panel report published by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The FAA report, released Monday by a panel of experts, said it observed a “disconnect” between Boeing’s senior management and other members of the organization when it comes to safety culture.

Employees tasked with checking the company’s planes also indicated confusion about whether issues could be raised without retaliation, the report noted.

“The procedures and training are complex and in a constant state of change, creating employee confusion especially among different work sites and employee groups,” the report stated, adding later the panel discovered “a lack of awareness of safety-related metrics” across all levels of the organization.

The report listed 50 recommendations to Boeing and advised the company to review and develop a plan to address the issues within the next six months. The panel noted the plan should be shared with the FAA.

“Successful adoption of the recommendations is expected to improve the level of safety provided by Boeing to its workforce, operators and the public,” the panel wrote.

The FAA, in a statement Monday, said it will “immediately begin a thorough review,” of the report to determine next steps and recommendations.

“We will continue to hold Boeing to the highest standard of safety and will work to ensure the company comprehensively addresses these recommendations,” the FAA said.

Boeing on Monday said it supported the panel’s review and “appreciates their work.

“We’ve taken important steps to foster a safety culture that empowers and encourages all employees to share their voice,” a Boeing spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “But there is more work to do. We will carefully review the panel’s assessment and learn from their findings, as we continue our comprehensive efforts to improve our safety and quality programs.”

The expert panel noted that while Boeing has reformed policies to reduce the risk of retaliation against employees, the restructuring, while better, still allows opportunities for retaliation to occur.”

The report comes after Congress ordered the study in 2020, when it passed legislation to change how the FAA checks new planes following deadly crashes involving Boeing 737 Max jetliners in 2018 and 2019. The crashes killed 346 people.

Boeing has faced mounting scrutiny this year after a midair blowout on a Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft in early January. A door plug on the plane blew off during an Alaska Airlines flight while the plane was 16,000 feet above Oregon and left a gaping hole on the side of the aircraft.

The plane made an emergency landing at Portland International Airport, and the FAA grounded the estimated 171 aircraft models the following day. Many of these planes have since returned to service following an FAA-approved inspection and maintenance process.

The FAA is separately spearheading a probe into Boeing to ensure the company’s planes complied with the agency’s safety regulations. It is conducting an audit of the 737 Max 9 production line and suppliers.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun last month called on employees to “speak up” and seek feedback.

“Our people on the factory floor know what we must do to improve better than anyone. We should … always encourage any team member who raises issues that need to be addressed,” Calhoun said in a message to employees, per Boeing.

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