Boeing Gives F.A.A. Plan to Address Systemic Quality-Control Issues

Boeing’s top executives delivered a plan to improve quality and safety to the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday, vowing to address systemic issues that have damaged the company’s reputation and put the aircraft manufacturer at the center of several federal investigations.

Boeing detailed these and other steps during a three-hour meeting with the F.A.A.’s administrator, Mike Whitaker, where the company submitted a “comprehensive action plan” that the regulator ordered in February.

Mr. Whitaker had given Boeing 90 days to develop a plan to make sweeping safety improvements after a midcabin panel known as a door plug blew out of a 737 Max 9 jet flying at about 16,000 feet on Jan. 5. No one was seriously injured during the flight.

The F.A.A. said in a statement on Thursday that “senior” leaders from the agency would “meet with Boeing weekly to review their performance metrics, progress, and any challenges they’re facing in implementing the changes.”

Boeing was also required to address findings, from an expert panel convened by the F.A.A. last year, that revealed persistent issues with the company’s safety culture. Mr. Whitaker said Boeing had accepted all the recommendations the panel made in the report.

“We need to see a strong and unwavering commitment to safety and quality that endures over time,” Mr. Whitaker said during a news conference on Thursday. “This is about systemic change, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

The F.A.A. did not provide details on the steps Boeing outlined in its plan.

Mr. Whitaker said he planned to continue to have weekly meetings with Boeing to make sure the action was being executed correctly and timely. Mr. Whitaker, who met on Thursday with David Calhoun, Boeing’s chief executive, will hold another meeting with Boeing’s chief executive in September. Mr. Calhoun has said he plans to step down at the end of the year.

There is no timeline for Boeing to carry out the changes, Mr. Whitaker said.

He also said Boeing had developed six measures by which it and the agency would be able to track the company’s progress. The F.A.A. will also maintain heightened inspections of both Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, a supplier that makes the bodies of the 737 Max jet. Boeing has said it plans to buy Spirit to gain more control over the quality of the parts it produces for the company.

Boeing made numerous changes in the months after the panel blowout. They include adding inspections internally and of its suppliers, increasing training, providing workers with additional tooling and initiating an independent review of its quality system and supplier oversight.

The company has conducted more than 20 meetings at sites around the world, pausing work to gather employee feedback on improving quality. More than 70,000 Boeing workers have participated in such meetings, providing tens of thousands of comments, the company has said.

The action plan is the latest in a series of moves by the F.A.A. to push for safety improvements throughout Boeing during the company’s tumultuous year. The regulator limited Boeing’s monthly production of 737 Max jets and audited its production lines, and is investigating the company’s compliance with federal safety standards.

Mr. Whitaker said the F.A.A. would continue to put limits on Boeing until the agency was satisfied with the company’s progress. The regulator and Boeing have yet to have any discussion about raising the number of Max jets that Boeing can produce in a month beyond 38, he said. Boeing is making the planes well below that rate today, but has said it hopes to accelerate production in the second half of the year.

“We will not approve production increases beyond the current cap until we’re satisfied,” Mr. Whitaker said during the news conference. “Bottom line, we will continue to make sure every airplane that comes off the line is safe and reliable.”

Boeing is expected to share additional details of the plan soon.

The Justice Department has also opened a criminal investigation into the Jan. 5 episode. A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board suggested that the Max 9 plane might have left Boeing’s factory in Renton, Wash., without the panel bolted down.

Boeing also faces potential legal repercussions from previous crashes involving its planes. The Justice Department said this month that Boeing had violated a 2021 settlement reached after two 737 Max plane crashes killed hundreds in 2018 and 2019. The determination opens the door for Boeing to be prosecuted on a criminal charge of conspiracy to defraud the F.A.A.

The Justice Department found that Boeing had failed to “design, implement and enforce” a compliance and ethics program that was a condition of the settlement. The company plans to contest the department’s determination.

That 2021 settlement had been criticized for being too lenient on Boeing and for being struck without consulting the families of the 346 people killed in the Max crashes. The crashes occurred in Indonesia and Ethiopia and led to the grounding of the entire 737 Max fleet for 20 months. An investigation determined that both crashes had involved the mistaken triggering of a maneuvering system designed to help avert stalls in flight.

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Kim browne

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