Boeing harassed and threatened its in-house safety inspectors and retaliated against one who complained, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration, which proposed fines of $1.25m against the aircraft manufacturer over the alleged behaviour.
The accusations, in a letter sent to Boeing on Wednesday, related to a controversial programme under which the FAA, the US regulator, delegates certain responsibilities for certifying aircraft safety to Boeing’s own employees.
The 17-year-old arrangement, called the Organization Designation Authorization programme, allows the FAA to stretch its manpower, but critics say it can undermine safety checks because Boeing pays the workers authorised to do them.
The first proposed fine of $1.1m stems from actions Boeing managers reportedly took at the company’s South Carolina plant between September 2018 and May 2019.
The managers waited outside where the aircraft were being assembled and timed ODA employees as they did inspections, according to the letter the FAA sent to Boeing. They were “harassing” employees to finish inspections more quickly, as well as “berating the performance of ODA unit members and threatening to get [them] replaced”.
One employee was pressured to inspect an aircraft that was unready for an inspection, the letter said.
When a manager for the unit reported the pressure, the managers retaliated by not interviewing the person for a promotion, the letter said.
Boeing also had ODA designees report to managers who were not part of the programme between November 2017 and July 2019, the FAA said.
The second fine stems from an incident in February this year. ODA employees inspecting a 787 Dreamliner found a cabin sconce light that did not work. When they asked for documentation on the light’s installation, “management became agitated and pushed back on the ODA’s request”.
Boeing said in a statement that it would not tolerate “undue pressure of any type”. It said it had disclosed the allegations to the FAA and “implemented corrective action in response to both incidents”.
The FAA said that in both cases, despite the pressure, the ODA designees “fulfilled their FAA responsibilities to ensure aircraft were conforming and in a condition for safe operation prior to issuance of their airworthiness certificates”.
The incidents are separate from another investigation the FAA is conducting at Boeing, also focusing on undue pressure in the ODA programme.
US senators Maria Cantwell and Roger Wicker introduced a bill in June that would change the ODA programme by allowing the FAA to approve who Boeing names as a designee and encouraging direct communication between members of ODA units and FAA inspectors.