Boeing Criticized For Lack of Cooperation in Investigation of Alaska Airlines Incident

Boeing has been criticized by the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for not providing some key records needed in the investigation of the Alaska Airlines 737 Max mid-air cabin door emergency. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said they have requested the names of the 25 people who work on door plugs at a Boeing facility in Renton, Washington, but have not received them yet. Homendy expressed her frustration at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday, saying that it was absurd not to have the information after two months. Boeing, on the other hand, stated that they had initially provided some of the names of Boeing employees, including door specialists they believed would have relevant information, and had recently provided the full list of individuals on the 737 door team in response to a request. They also added that if the door plug removal was undocumented, there would be no documentation to share. Boeing also said they will continue to cooperate fully and transparently with the NTSB's investigation. 


Homendy further revealed that the NTSB has requested the documentation related to the door plug several times over the past few months and expressed frustration again. She said that the information being sought includes the precise shift that worked on the improperly installed door plug in September. The agency also seeks documentation related to the opening and closing of the door plug and the removal of key bolts that were missing. Homendy also confirmed that inspections of all other MAX 9 planes in service found no other missing bolts. The NTSB plans to hold a multiple-day investigative hearing into the MAX 9, which will likely be in late summer and include testimony from Boeing personnel and fuselage manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems. 


Homendy confirmed that investigations began at Boeing's Renton plant on Sunday and will continue throughout the week. At present, the NTSB does not know which employees removed the bolts and failed to reinstall them. Homendy said that they need to interview the employees to ensure safety and find out what happened, what was done and what was not done, and what policies are in place. Homendy emphasized that they were not about blame at the NTSB. Senator Ted Cruz, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, called it utterly unacceptable that the NTSB was not receiving full cooperation from Boeing. 


Homendy also confirmed that the MAX 9 door plug had moved during prior flights, citing markings on the door. There were 154 previous flights by the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX before the January 5 mid-air emergency. Homendy said that there were very small movements until it eventually came out and testing showed that one could see a bit of a gap towards the end, but it was not clear how noticeable it was. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week said that its 737 MAX production audit into Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems found multiple instances where the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements. The FAA has given Boeing 90 days to come up with a quality improvement plan.

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