Boeing holds employee all-hands meeting amid mounting safety concerns
“We’re going to approach this, number one, acknowledging our mistake," said Boeing CEO David Calhoun at an all-hands safety meeting Tuesday, in comments shared with KUOW.
Boeing convened the last-minute meeting after reports from two airlines indicated last Friday’s emergency, in which a piece of an Alaska Airlines plane broke off in mid-air, may not have been an isolated event.
"We’re going to approach it with 100% and complete transparency every step of the way," Calhoun said.
From Boeing's factory in Renton, Wash., Calhoun addressed safety concerns following the incident, in which a piece of fuselage detached from a flight leaving Portland.
On Monday night, Alaska Airlines said that, during inspections, technicians found “loose hardware” on the same area of other 737 Max 9 planes. The announcement came shortly after United Airlines said it had similar findings. The two are the only U.S. carriers that fly 737 Max 9s with the piece that detached mid-air. The announcements undermine the hope that the incident that occurred on Alaska flight 1282 was the result of a one-off defect or isolated error.
Shortly after flight 1282 departed Portland International Airport, a door plug — part of the fuselage that seals up an opening for an optional extra exit door — detached from the airplane. Passengers sustained emotional and physical injuries, but everyone survived the emergency landing back in Portland. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded Max 9 planes with the door plug feature for inspection, causing flight delays.
“When I got that picture ... I didn’t know what happened, so whoever was supposed to be in the seat next to that hole in the airplane, I’ve got kids, I’ve got grandkids, and so do you," Calhoun said. "This stuff matters. Every detail matters.”
During a press conference Monday night, the National Transportation Safety Board said it had determined what caused the door plug to fly off of the plane, though the agency is still investigating how and why it happened. The bolts that hold the base of the door plug onto the plane were either missing or malfunctioned, according to NTSB engineer Clint Crookshanks.
“We have not yet recovered the four bolts that restrain it from its vertical movement, and we have not yet determined if they existed there,” he said.
NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said the agency is focused on getting to the bottom of what happened on flight 1282, but she said she won’t hesitate to broaden the investigation if necessary.
“We need to first and foremost figure out what happened here on this aircraft,” she said. “If we have a bigger systemwide or fleet issue, we will issue an urgent safety recommendation to push for change.”
The incident — and subsequent findings from Alaska and United — strikes another blow to Boeing’s reputation at a time when the company was attempting to regain the public’s trust. Boeing has struggled to rebound after two Max 8 jets crashed in recent years, killing 346 people.
In a statement Monday, Boeing said, “we regret the impact this has had on our customers and their passengers.”
The company said it will “help address any and all findings” from the investigations that are underway.