Editor’s Note: This story was written before the release yesterday of an independent Expert Panel appointed by Congressional mandate to review Boeing’s safety culture. The report may be downloaded here: Boeing Safety Study by FAA Panel 2-26-24
By Scott Hamilton
Feb. 27, 2024, © Leeham News: The safety culture at Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) came under fire again following the Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 accident in which an emergency exit door plug separated from the plane on climb out from the Portland (OR) airport.
The plane, a 10-week-old 737-9 MAX, fully depressurized at about 16,000 ft. Nobody died and injuries were slight. Damage throughout the cabin and into the cockpit occurred when the door plug, at row 26, blew out. Pilots landed the plane safely at Portland 14 minutes after the decompression.
Within days, quality “escapes” were determined to have occurred at Spirit AeroSystems, which built the fuselage and door plug, and at Boeing during final assembly. Since Boeing had the fuselage last and its employees completed the final assembly, Boeing’s ultimately responsible for the quality escapes.
Boeing Co. CEO David Calhoun was quick to accept responsibility for the company. Such life-threatening escapes should never happen, he said. Calhoun appointed an independent safety committee headed by a retired Admiral, Kirkland Donald, with a nuclear submarine safety background.
The appointment of a special safety committee is reminiscent of a board-level safety committee appointed in September 2019 by then-chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg in the aftermath of the MAX crisis following the October 2018 and March 2019 fatal accidents of two 737-8 MAXes. These accidents killed 348 people and led to a 21-month grounding of the global MAX fleet from March 13, 2019.
Jon Holden, the president of Boeing’s largest union, the IAM 751, said neither he nor others from the union had any contact from the 2019 committee. Boeing’s engineering and technicians union, SPEEA, declined comment. But a source familiar with the situation said the union didn’t see any changes implemented from the 2019 committee at its level.
Editor’s note: Mondays are ordinarily paywall days. Because of the nature of this topic, today’s article is a freewall post.
By Scott Hamilton
Feb. 26, 2024, © Leeham News: There’s no getting around the culpability of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing, and Spirit AeroSystems in the current 737 MAX mess. Nor was there any doubt about the culpability of the FAA and Boeing in the first MAX crisis in 2018-2019.
But let’s face it: Ultimately, Congress is where the buck stops. Because Congress for decades failed to appropriate the bucks needed for the FAA to do its job without overreliance on Boeing or Spirit.
Shifting oversight responsibilities and diminishing the FAA’s role may well have been the result of effective lobbying by Boeing and others in the aerospace industry. Congress could have rejected changes to laws governing the FAA’s oversight authority in favor of Boeing and other aerospace companies.
So, it’s Congress, once again, that is ultimately culpable.
Let’s not be naïve. There is no way Congress or Members of Congress will step up to assume responsibility for the mess the US commercial aviation industry sees itself in today.
By the Leeham News Team
Feb. 7, 2024, © Leeham News: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday issued its preliminary report on the Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 structural failure on Jan. 5 this year. (A link to the report is below.)
A door plug on an emergency exit on a two-month-old Boeing 737-9 MAX blew off the airplane as it passed more than 16,000 ft shortly after takeoff from Portland (OR). Nobody was killed and only a few injuries occurred. The flight crew made an emergency landing in Portland a few minutes later.
Within days, the focus for the incident landed on Spirit AeroSystems, which makes the fuselages and installed the door plug, and on Boeing, which completed final assembly at its Renton (WA) 737 plant. Quality assurance, or “quality escape” in aviation jargon, was suggested to be issues at Spirit and Boeing.
LNA’s Bjorn Fehrm quickly concluded that four bolts meant to hold the door plug in position after installation were missing. The bolts are designed to prevent the plug from moving upward off flanges that hold the plug in place in the fuselage opening.
The NTSB’s investigation confirmed that these four bolts were missing after Boeing removed and reinstalled the plug to fix a quality escape from Spirit affecting the plug. Boeing employees failed to reinstall the plug.
Removing the plug is not a standard final assembly procedure. It’s called an “unplanned removal.” There is a specified procedure to reinstall an unplanned removal. It appears that Boeing failed to follow its own procedures.
LNA on Jan. 15 detailed the procedures for unplanned removals and reinstallation.
By Dan Catchpole
Feb. 6, 2024 © Leeham News: Quality more than quantity will drive Spirit Aerosystems executives’ compensation when the company unveils its new formula when it files its proxy statement in March, the company’s CEO Pat Shanahan told Wall Street analysts on Tuesday.
“It will be significantly different, and the heaviest weighting will be only quality,” he said during a conference call discussing Spirit’s fourth quarter earnings report.
The panel blowout on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 last month highlighted ongoing quality problems at Spirit and Boeing. Unlike the violent decompression on the 737 MAX 9, the quality problems typically just create financial headaches and public embarrassment for the two companies.
Spirit recorded $59M in net income, 48 cents adjusted earnings per share, and $42M free cash flow in the fourth quarter of 2023, its first profitable quarter since the beginning of 2022.
The company’s performance was boosted by a contract renegotiation and financing deal signed with Boeing in October. Spirit is getting close to signing a similar deal with Airbus, Shanahan said.
By Scott Hamilton
Special Coverage of the Boeing crisis
Jan. 24, 2024, © Leeham News: What began as a non-fatal accident with an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 on Jan. 5 has blown into a full crisis for Boeing. The company was once considered the gold standard of commercial aviation.
Today, 171 737-9s remain grounded in the US by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). There is no end in sight as the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigate the accident of Flight 1282 in which a door plug (an inactive emergency exit) blew off the 10 week old Alaska MAX 9 on climb out from Portland (OR).
It is the second time the MAX has been grounded. All MAX 8s and MAX 9s were grounded from March 2019 for 21 months. This grounding only affects the MAX 9.
Evidence points to Boeing quality assurance flaws in final assembly. An anonymous Boeing employee posted on LNA a detailed scenario how Boeing failed its own processes in final assembly of the Alaska plane. (His post follows this article.)
The FAA is booting more inspectors on the ground at the 737 Renton factory. On Jan. 24, Boeing shut down the 737 assembly line for a “safety stand down.” CEOs of Alaska and United airlines, the two US carriers with the 171 MAX 9s on the ground, publicly eviscerated Boeing.
At the first aviation conference following the Alaska incident, the Aviation Week suppliers event, some speakers called for leadership changes at Boeing.
Update: The Federal Aviation Administration today notified Boeing it is under investigation for potentially failing to ensure the door plug was properly installed.
By Scott Hamilton
Jan. 11, 2024, © Leeham News: Alaska Airlines Flight 1282’s (AS 1282) decompression last Friday on a Boeing 737-9 MAX understandably brought new focus and doubts about the MAX program.
The MAX was grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration for 21 months after the March 2019 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737-8 MAX. This followed an October 2018 crash of a Lion Air MAX 8 under similar flight conditions. The two accidents were traced to the root cause of a mis-designed Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
When a door plug for an inactive emergency exit blew out of AS 1282 at 16,000 ft minutes after departure from Portland (OR), it meant trouble for Boeing and confidence in the MAX. Fortunately, no fatalities and only a few minor injuries resulted from the decompression. The flight returned to Portland and landed safely.
Alaska grounded its fleet of 65 MAX 9s within hours. United Airlines followed the next day. It has more MAX 9s—79—than any other airline. Shortly after United’s action, the FAA made it mandatory: the MAX 9s would remain grounded until inspections and fixes, if required, could be completed. A few other international airlines followed suit.
But as information emerged through Tuesday of this week, it became clear that this story is not a “MAX” story. It’s a story about quality assurance at Boeing or Spirit AeroSystems, the maker of the 737 fuselages and the plug door.
By the Leeham News Team
Jan. 8, 2024, © Leeham News: Following in the footsteps of the 737 rudder bolt omission inspection just last month, we have the Jan. 5 incident on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 in which an emergency exit plug door blew off the airplane at 16,500 ft. This may indicate another quality assurance failure at either Boeing or Spirit AeroSystems.
We don’t know if this is a Boeing problem, a Spirit problem, a bolt manufacturer problem, or an Alaska Airlines problem. It’s way too soon in the investigation to draw conclusions. Certainly, because it’s Boeing’s name on the airplane, and especially given the MAX history, people are jumping to the conclusion that Boeing screwed up again. While this may ultimately prove true, LNA is not at all prepared to conclude today that this is the case.
The flight left Portland (OR) for Ontario (CA) about 4:30pm. Six minutes later, as the two-month-old Boeing 737 MAX 9 was climbing through 16,500 ft to cruising altitude, the inactive emergency exit plug door, aft of the wing on the left side of the plane, separated from the aircraft. Decompression followed, with an emergency descent and landing back at Portland. There were no serious injuries.
Boeing and Spirit have been plagued in recent years by quality “escapes.” Inspection and quality assurance may be the culprit again. The official investigation will take some time. The rapid issuance of the Emergency AD Note mandating only a one time inspection is a logical response to something having been misassembled, with the fix being to verify it is assembled per drawing. Whether this is another piece of poor workmanship not being caught by inspection remains to be seen.
The following analysis was compiled by LNA’s news team.
By Dan Catchpole
During a Nov. 1st conference call discussing the company’s third quarter earnings, Shanahan said, “I recognize we have disappointed our stakeholders.”
Shanahan just came on as chief executive in October to help turn around Spirit, which has been flailing, along with much of the aerospace supply chain. Boeing and Airbus will be watching Shanahan’s progress. He gained a reputation as Mr. Fix-It during his time at Boeing.
By Chris Sloan
Nov. 1, 2023, © Leeham News : Howmet Aerospace reported third-quarter revenues of $1.66bn, up 16% year over year, primarily driven by growth in commercial aerospace of 23%. Overall, the company achieved an improved margin of 23% EBITDA, propelled by surging demand from OEs across all three aerospace segments: Engine Products, Fastening Systems, and Engineered Structures.
“Commercial Aerospace has grown for 10 consecutive quarters and stands at 49% of total revenue. Its growth continues to be robust, supported by demand for new, more fuel-efficient aircraft as well as increased spares demand,” proclaimed John C. Plant, Howmet’s Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
A chorus of analysts agreed Howmet beat consensus “This was another quarter where Howmet’s results stand out relative to its commercial aero peers, especially compared to other OE [Original Equipment] suppliers. In 3Q, Howmet delivered beats on sales, margins, EPS, and raised its guidance for all three metrics,” said Melius Research in a note. “What is arguably more impressive is that Howmet did this in a quarter where the operating environment was far from smooth.”
By Dan Catchpole
October 23, 2023, © Leeham News: Wall Street analysts expect Boeing to post its biggest quarterly loss of the year when it reports its third quarter earnings on Wednesday. The company’s commercial and defense divisions continue to struggle with rework, slow work, supply chain snafus, and other challenges for both its commercial and defense and space divisions. Those divisions’ losses likely will be offset somewhat by Boeing Global Services, which continues to be a bright spot on the company’s otherwise blood-red ledger book.
Analysts aren’t expecting any big surprises, just more of the same financial dark clouds that have been camped out over Boeing in recent years. They expect Boeing to announce a loss due to well-known challenges, especially with its 737 and 787 programs, as well as ongoing struggles within Boeing Defense, Space and Security. In recent research notes, investment analysts have forecast BDS posting a loss between $475m and $500m for the quarter.
Across Boeing’s divisions, Wall Street expects the company to book more than $1bn in losses. Projections vary by as much as $1bn. At the low end, TD Cowen expects a loss of just under $900m. At the other end, Bernstein projects about $1.85bn in losses. In either case, that would be the biggest loss since 2022’s third quarter, when Boeing posted a $3.3bn loss.