Special Coverage of the Boeing crisis
Jan. 23, 2024, © Leeham News: When in trouble, Boeing turned to a retired US Navy Admiral for the second time.
Last week, CEO David Calhoun announced that Adm. Kirkland Donald was named as special advisor to Calhoun. “Donald and a team of outside experts will conduct a thorough assessment of Boeing’s quality management system for commercial airplanes, including quality programs and practices in Boeing manufacturing facilities and its oversight of commercial supplier quality,” Boeing said in a statement.
It’s the second time Boeing turned to an admiral in connection with 737 MAX crises. In September 2019, the company turned to one of its Board of Directors members, Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, to head a new board-level safety committee to review a plethora of safety items in Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Then-CEO Dennis Muilenburg asked the Board the previous April to establish a Board committee to review Boeing’s safety practices and recommend next steps.
At the time, the MAX had been grounded for six months, with no end in sight. (Another year and two months would pass before the Federal Aviation Administration recertified the MAX.)
Donald and Giambastiani came from the nuclear navy, where safety measures are among the world’s best. Since the creation of the nuclear navy, there have been only two instances where ships were lost—and neither of them was directly related to nuclear power.
The submarine USS Thresher was lost on a test dive in 1963. The submarine USS Scorpion was lost in 1968. The Thresher’s loss was traced to disastrous flooding at a depth from which the sub could not overcome the flooding to surface. The Scorpion’s loss remains controversial to this day. Some believe it was sunk during the Cold War by a Soviet submarine. Others believe a torpedo suffered a “hot run” accident in the torpedo room and blew up before it could be disarmed.
Adm. Hyman Rickover, the father of the US nuclear navy, tightened safety standards after the Thresher’s loss.
With Boeing turning to contemporary admirals for safety reviews, it might be useful to look at Rickover’s overarching rules.
You must have a rising standard of quality over time, and well beyond what is required by any minimum standard.
People running complex systems should be highly capable.
Supervisors have to face bad news when it comes and take problems to a level high enough to fix those problems.
You must have a healthy respect for the dangers and risks of your particular job.
Training must be constant and rigorous.
All the functions of repair, quality control, and technical support must fit together.
The organization and members thereof must have the ability and willingness to learn from the mistakes of the past.
As the original MAX crisis continued, another independent safety review was named on Jan. 5, 2023, to review Boeing’s processes and culture. Ironically, the Alaska 1282 accident occurred one year to the day after this panel was named. The FAA grounded the MAX 9 fleet the next day.
The panel included MIT lecturer and aerospace engineer Javier de Luis whose sister was killed in a MAX crash, as well as experts NASA, the FAA, labor unions, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney, and FedEx. Airbus also was named to the panel, but it withdrew a week later.
The panel was given nine months to complete its review. LNA is told that the FAA is to receive a draft of the report later this month.