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The FAA is investigating new whistleblower warnings about Boeing 787 jets

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A new Boeing whistleblower has come forward alleging production quality issues with the 787, the planemaker’s popular carbon fiber widebody jet.

As The New York Times first reported, Sam Salehpour, a Boeing engineer, said the company is using excessive force on its production lines to get parts of the 787 fuselage manufactured by different subcontractors to fit together.

“I literally saw people jumping on the airplanes to get pieces to align,” Salehpour said during a press availability organized by his attorneys. “This can cause damage to the parts … We are talking about airplanes, not pieces of furniture that require home assembly.” 

According to a complaint he filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, the issues could lead to a catastrophic failure of plane components inflight.

“As a veteran engineer at Boeing with more than four decades of experience, Mr. Salehpour observed shortcuts employed by Boeing to reduce bottlenecks during the 787 assembly process that placed excessive stress on major airplane joints, and embedded drilling debris between key joints on more than 1000 planes,” a statement from Katz Banks Kumin, the law firm representing Salehpour, said. “These errors in the manufacturing process significantly reduce the lifespan of the plane and may be difficult to identify.”

Deliveries of the 787 were temporarily slowed and then suspended in 2021 and 2022 while Boeing addressed previous safety concerns raised by the FAA.

“We are fully confident in the 787 Dreamliner. These claims about the structural integrity of the 787 are inaccurate and do not represent the comprehensive work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and long-term safety of the aircraft. The issues raised have been subject to rigorous engineering examination under FAA oversight,” Boeing said in a statement. “This analysis has validated that these issues do not present any safety concerns and the aircraft will maintain its service life over several decades. We continue to monitor these issues under established regulatory protocols and encourage all employees to speak up when issues arise.”

Boeing pointed out in a statement to USA TODAY that the 787’s composite material hull means it is less susceptible to corrosion and fatigue than traditional metal fuselages, but Salehpour’s complaint alleges the material is also less likely to show visible external signs of stress before it reaches a point of failure.

Cruising Altitude: I’ve covered Boeing’s 737 MAX for years. Here’s a quick rundown of the issues.

According to Boeing, a years-long fatigue analysis of 787 fuselages was conducted, and it was found that the planes were fit to fly well beyond their designed service life.

“From 2010-2015 Boeing tested a full-scale fuselage and a forward fuselage section simulating up to 165,000 cycles of pressurization – about 3.75 times the jet’s designed lifespan of 44,000 cycles – with no findings of fatigue,” the manufacturer said in a statement.

The FAA acknowledged receipt of Salehpour’s complaint and said it takes all safety-related allegations seriously.

“Voluntary reporting without fear of reprisal is a critical component in aviation safety. We strongly encourage everyone in the aviation industry to share information. We thoroughly investigate all reports,” a statement from the agency said.

Salehpour, who is set to testify before Congress later in April, said he was moved off the 787 program after voicing his concerns and later spoke out about alleged quality control issues in 777 production, which he also documented. 

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at zwichter@usatoday.com

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