On January 8, a portion of the fuselage of an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 was covered with plastic sheeting at Portland International Airport. NTSB investigators are trying to figure out why the plane’s fuselage exploded in midair last Friday.
Matthew Lewis-Rowland/Getty Images
Matthew Lewis-Rowland/Getty Images
Matthew Lewis-Rowland/Getty Images
A quality-control inspector working at a major supplier for Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft reported finding “a significant amount of defects” at a plant in Kansas, according to documents filed in federal court last month.
The charges add to the investigation into Spirit AeroSystems, which blew out the fuselage and door plugs of an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 during a flight with 171 passengers and six crew members on board last Friday. No serious injuries were reported.
The FAA has grounded all Max 9 jets with door plugs for safety inspections since that disaster. The agency also sent a letter to Boeing on Thursday informing the company of its investigation into the incident, saying the circumstances “indicate that Boeing failed to ensure that its finished products conformed to its approved designs.” and are in safe operating condition.” Citing testing and inspection requirements.
“This incident should never have happened and it can never happen again,” FAA said,
The court documents were filed as part of an ongoing lawsuit by shareholders who accused Spirit’s leaders of mismanaging the company and misrepresenting details about its operations — resulting, the plaintiffs said. Says, Spirit’s stock price declined significantly. News of the lawsuit was first reported by The Lever.
The lawsuit does not specifically mention possible defects in the manufacturing of the door plug, such as that it was defective. Asked by NPR about the lawsuit’s allegations, a Spirit representative declined to comment.
Last week’s incident is under investigation. National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said this week that while investigators know “what broke” in the plane over Oregon — a system of bolts failed to keep the door plug from flying out the side of the plane — they have yet to We are also working to find out how and why this happened.
What does the former soul worker say?
Court filings allege that a former Spirit employee was asked to perform his duties in an “unethical” manner intended to obscure quality problems. He also accused Spirit managers of retaliating against him for raising a red flag about the way he reported deficiencies by demoting him.
The lawsuit does not name the former Spirit employee, described as a 12-year veteran of the company, a “quality manager” who worked as an inspector and then led a team of inspectors. The suit says that in that job, he “oversaw various processes at the end of the line, also known as the ‘rail pit,’ where Spirit finished working on products before they were delivered to customers. done.”
“This included the preparation of the completed fuselage to be shipped to Boeing and the monitoring of the ‘final shake,’ which Spirit called its final inspection prior to shipment,” the lawsuit states.
Another former employee, identified in the lawsuit as an internal quality auditor, is quoted in court as saying that “auditors repeatedly found torque wrenches in mechanics’ toolboxes that were not properly calibrated,” According to court filings. “This was potentially a serious problem, as a torque wrench that is out of calibration may not torque the fasteners to the correct level, resulting in over-tightening or under-tightening conditions that compromise the structural integrity of the parts involved. Could put you in danger.”
According to the former employee, Spirit was required to confiscate miscalibrated tools from auditors – a move he said angered managers and mechanics, including some who allegedly used their tools to block the audit. Toolbox was closed.
Documents filed as part of the lawsuit include internal company emails and an ethics complaint filed with Spirit’s human resources department dating back to February 2022. They were filed in a federal court in December, but they are now attracting interest from Alaska Airlines. The 737 Max 9 jet on which Spirit operated suffered a disaster in Oregon.
What is Spirit and how is it connected to Boeing?
Spirit is “one of the world’s largest manufacturers of aerostructures for commercial airplanes, defense platforms and business/regional jets,” its website states. The company manufactures a range of airplane parts, such as fuselages and wings, with its customer companies then performing final assembly.
Spirit’s customers include both EU-based Airbus and Boeing, but the company has a long-standing relationship with Boeing: Spirit was spun off from the US aircraft maker in 2005, and in 2020 it said the 737 Contribution is more than 50%. Income.
It is headquartered in Wichita, Kan., where Spirit is listed as the city’s largest employer with approximately 9,500 employees. Its global reach extends to Malaysia, France, Northern Ireland and Morocco.
But Spirit AeroSystems has faced a number of challenges in recent years, and last November the company reported a net loss of $691.6 million for the first three quarters of 2023. It was also said that it had a debt of $3.87 billion.
The Federal Aviation Administration grounded the 737 Max in March 2019 after a pair of fatal crashes involving 737 Max 8 planes killed 346 people. Those crashes were blamed on software problems, but the FAA investigation also found hardware problems in some of the planes, citing “improper manufacturing processes.”
The 20-month grounding of the popular plane dealt a financial blow to Spirit: As orders for the Boeing airliner dried up, production and deliveries halted, and Spirit laid off about 2,800 employees.
By the time the 737 Max was cleared to fly again in late 2020, the aviation industry was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and air travel was greatly reduced.
As the aviation industry rebounded rapidly, Spirit faced pressure to deliver aircraft parts to Boeing as airlines moved to update their fleets and meet strong customer demand. At the end of the third quarter last year, Spirit reported a $42.2 billion backlog, which it attributed to work for Airbus and Boeing.
As concerns grew over the defects last fall, Spirit replaced CEO Tom Gentile — who is named in the shareholder lawsuit — with former Boeing executive Pat Shanahan. Boeing and Spirit also announced an agreement in an effort to boost both production and quality.
The Max is the fourth generation of Boeing’s 737, with its first commercial flight in 2017. The Max 9, the model currently under investigation, has a longer fuselage than the Max 8. The narrow-body 737 has since been one of the world’s best-selling aircraft. It was first constructed in 1968.
Is the spirit involved in the current investigation?
NTSB chief Homendy said Monday that his agency had asked Spirit AeroSystems to become a party to the investigation into the recent explosion aboard an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9. The aircraft, with tail number N704AL, was certified as airworthy and entered service within a few months. Before Friday’s incident.
This means Spirit can contribute technical information and expertise to the investigation and present its own “proposed findings of cause,” according to the NTSB. But the agency will be responsible for the analysis and final report.
“A Spirit team is now directly supporting the NTSB’s investigation,” the company said in a message to NPR on Wednesday. “As a company, we are focused on the quality of every aircraft structure that comes out of our facilities.”
This week, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines are the only US carriers that use the Max 9. Loose bolts have reportedly been found on the 737 Max 9 aircraft, and inspections are ongoing. Other iterations of the 737, such as the Max 8, have not been affected by the grounding. And some airlines use a configuration of the Max 9 that does not have the type of screwed door plug.
It may take several months to get full answers about what really happened.
“Our investigation could take anywhere from a year to 18 months,” NTSB aerospace engineer Clint Cruickshanks said at a briefing earlier this week.
What is the lawsuit about?
The class-action lawsuit alleges that when Spirit leaders told investors in recent years that the company was dedicated to safety and defect-free manufacturing, they were making false or misleading statements. The lawsuit accuses Spirit of having a company culture “that emphasized product push over quality.”
A large part of the lawsuit focuses on how officials allegedly handled the problem that made headlines last summer. Then news broke that Spirit had incorrectly drilled a part on some 737 Max planes: their rear pressure bulkhead, a critical part of the structure around the cabin.
The plaintiffs say that in October 2022, Joshua Dean, who was a quality auditor at Spirit at the time, identified the bulkhead problem as a critical defect and reported it to managers in multiple departments.
“However,” the lawsuit alleges, “Spirit concealed this issue from investors until it was disclosed by independent reporting in August 2023, ten months after Spirit identified it.”
That problem became public as Spirit was already dealing with another issue: Last April, Boeing disclosed a defect in the way the tail fin fitting was attached at the rear on some models of the 737 Max, resulting in a production halt. There was a recession.
The shareholders’ lawsuit says that when the problems became public, the stock prices of both Spirit and Boeing fell.
“Defendants concealed from investors that Spirit suffered widespread and persistent quality failures,” the lawsuit alleges. “These failures included defects such as the routine presence of foreign object debris (‘FOD’) in Spirit products, missing fasteners, peeling paint and poor skin quality.”
The lawsuit says Boeing did conduct quality audits at the Spirit facility — but it claims those inspections were told in advance when and where they would take place. The lawsuit alleges that with that warning in place, Spirit’s management was able to ensure that sections audited by Boeing were able to pass inspections.
The plaintiffs want a jury trial, seeking legal costs and expenses as well as “compensatory damages for all damages suffered as a result of the defendants’ wrongful actions.”