Boeing’s mid-air blowout no surprise considering company’s safety culture, says FAA panelist and aerospace engineer whose brother died in 737 Max crash

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The mid-flight blowout that plunged Boeing Co. into a crisis of confidence was not a surprise, considering shortcomings in the company’s safety culture, an aerospace expert plans to tell lawmakers on Wednesday.

Javier de Luis, an aerospace engineer and lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, plans to tell the Senate Commerce Committee that the planemaker’s pace and commitment to change falls short of what’s needed after two 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people. He was among several experts convened by the US Federal Aviation Administration who authored a damning report on Boeing’s safety culture earlier this year. 

In written remarks prepared for the hearing, de Luis cited what he called “distressing” comments last month by Boeing Chief Financial Officer Brian West, who said that the company’s emphasizing aircraft production over quality needs to change and that company leadership “got it” after the Jan. 5 accident, in which a fuselage panel blew off an 737 Max 9 shortly after takeoff. 

US investigators have said the plane was apparently missing four key bolts meant to hold the piece in place. 

“I would have thought that they would have ‘gotten it’ five years ago,” de Luis said in the written remarks. He is the brother of Graziella de Luis, who was one of the passengers killed when a 737 Max flown by Ethiopian Airlines crashed in March 2019.

A Boeing representative declined to comment. The company is preparing a 90-day plan to overhaul its quality and safety practices in response to the panel’s findings ahead of a May 28 deadline, according to the Senate Commerce Committee. 

The remarks preview how Boeing’s safety culture will come under public scrutiny on Wednesday as two separate Senate hearings pore over a whistleblower’s claims of poor assembly processes and shortcomings revealed in the expert panel’s extensive study commissioned by Congress.

De Luis plans to testify at the hearing called by Senator Maria Cantwell to examine the company’s safety culture. Published in February, the panel’s report faulted Boeing for ineffective procedures and a breakdown in communications between senior management and other members of staff.

The Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will hear testimony later Wednesday from a Boeing quality engineer who has alleged the company’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft are at risk of weakening structurally over time, claims Boeing has denied.

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