Boeing fined for sharing information about Alaska Airlines crash

Federal authorities reprimanded Boeing on Thursday in an unusual public display of frustration after the aerospace company this week shared details of its investigation into the mid-flight explosion of a door panel aboard an Alaska Airlines 737 Max jet.

The NTSB announced it would no longer share information from the investigation with Boeing. He added that he would subpoena the company at two days of hearings on the accident scheduled for August.

Boeing shared some details of its investigation into the January incident during a news conference on the campus in Renton, Washington, where the company is completing final assembly of its 737 Max plane. The company had invited members of the media to a series of briefings ahead of the Farnborough International Airshow next month.

Companies and organizations that participate in NTSB investigations sign agreements not to publicly disclose “As a party to numerous NTSB investigations over the past decades, few entities know the rules better than Boeing,” the NTSB said in a statement.

“We deeply regret that some of our comments, intended to clarify our responsibility for the accident and explain the actions we are taking, exceeded the NTSB’s role as a source of information for the investigation,” Boeing said in a statement Thursday. “We apologize to the NTSB and are prepared to answer any questions as the agency continues its investigation.”

These sanctions are a new blow for Boeing, which is struggling to recover from an avalanche of worrying headlines. Last week, David Calhoun, Boeing’s chief executive, appeared before a Senate subcommittee, where he was repeatedly criticized for his leadership at the helm of the aerospace giant. And this week, reports emerged of federal prosecutors recommending to senior Justice Department officials that Boeing be criminally prosecuted in connection with fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

Elizabeth Lund, senior vice president for quality control and quality assurance at Boeing, briefed reporters Tuesday about the accident and what steps the company is taking to prevent further quality control violations.

Lund told reporters that Boeing realized the plane’s fuselage was damaged when it arrived at the Renton plant but continued to move forward with final assembly while the company and Spirit AeroSystems, the contractor that builds the part, deliberated about what should be done about the non-conforming rivets. Lund said the plane was at the end of the production line when it was determined the rivets would need to be replaced.

However, for this work to be carried out, a panel in the fuselage where a door might have been had to be removed. The slip was removed, but records documenting that work were not created — a violation of Boeing policies, Lund said. The rivets have been replaced. Another team of Boeing workers then carried out the final process of “buttoning” the plane, which included closing the door plug, Lund said.

“They didn’t reinstall the retaining pins,” she said. “That’s not their job. Their job is simply to close it, and they rely on existing paperwork.

Lund said that because the door plug seal fit well, the plane passed Boeing’s own flight test and was able to be flown by Alaska Airlines for about 150 cycles until the January blowout. She stressed, however, that the company had taken numerous measures to prevent such an incident from happening again.

This is not the first time the NTSB has called out Boeing during the months-long investigation into the Jan. 5 crash.

Boeing had pledged full transparency with investigators, but during a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in March, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy publicly chastised the company for failing to provide key information to investigators, including the names of those involved in removing and reinstalling the door panel.

NTSB officials also said they would coordinate with the Justice Department’s criminal division to provide any details they uncover that might be relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation into the door stopper blowout.


An earlier version of this article indicated a spelling error in the name of the Farnborough Airshow. The article has been corrected.

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