Boeing’s quality complaints mount as another whistleblower comes forward

Boeing has said it would slow down its factories and take new steps to prevent problems from being pushed down assembly lines. PHOTO: JASON REDMOND/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Boeing has said it would slow down its factories and take new steps to prevent problems from being pushed down assembly lines. PHOTO: JASON REDMOND/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES


A former quality manager will provide written testimony that will be part of a congressional hearing Wednesday.

Boeing’s quality issues have prompted a growing chorus of former employees to come forward with concerns about the jet maker’s manufacturing process.

The latest is Roy Irvin, a quality manager who retired in 2020 and said employees working on the 787 Dreamliner jets were discouraged from flagging problems or recommending changes to prevent future snafus.

Irvin’s written account will be part of a congressional hearing on Wednesday that will feature another whistleblower who went public last week with his concerns about 787 joints.

“I was told, ‘We don’t have enough time to do corrective actions, so don’t write one,’" Irvin said in an interview. In pushing the company to address issues, “there was always the chance of not necessarily getting fired but moving to a position that would be much less important."

Federal safety officials are investigating claims made public last week by a veteran Boeing engineer who said the company dismissed quality and safety concerns during production of its Dreamliner jets. Deliveries of the jets, made at Boeing’s Charleston, S.C., factory, were halted for nearly two years starting in 2020 amid various production and regulatory issues.

The engineer, Sam Salehpour, will testify at Wednesday’s hearing. He said the process Boeing used to fasten parts of the plane together left gaps wider than allowed by Boeing’s own standards, potentially compromising the plane’s durability.

The jet maker defended the safety of the 787 in a two-hour presentation to journalists earlier this week, outlining what engineers described as an exhaustive, yearslong testing and analysis process to investigate gaps in the plane’s body and ensure its safety.

Boeing engineers said tests conducted over several years indicate that most gaps meet specifications, and the ones that don’t do not compromise the plane’s structural integrity.

The Federal Aviation Administration said that voluntary reporting without fear of retaliation is critical to aviation safety, and that it thoroughly investigates all reports.

The company said recent efforts to encourage employees to speak out about quality issues are working. A program in which employees can flag concerns anonymously or by name, in January and February received as many entries as it would normally get in an entire year.

“We have exploded in the amount of ‘Speak Ups’ that have come in, because we’re continually encouraging it," said Lisa Fahl, a Boeing vice president who previously oversaw 787 quality.

The jet maker is facing criticism for shortcomings in its quality control and manufacturing operations in the wake of a midair blowout of a door plug on an Alaska Airlines flight in January. That plane, a smaller 737 MAX, was built at Boeing’s Renton, Wash., factory.

Executives have since acknowledged that the company at times overemphasized moving planes down the assembly line and employed practices, such as completing work out of sequence, that aimed to speed production but also compromised quality.

The jet maker said last month that Chief Executive Dave Calhoun would step down at the end of the year as part of a broader executive shake-up in the wake of the Alaska Airlines accident.

Boeing has said it would slow down the factories to focus on quality and take new steps to prevent problems from being pushed down assembly lines. The company recently changed its bonus plan for 100,000 workers to emphasize quality and safety over meeting financial targets.

Boeing declined to comment on Irvin’s account. A company spokesman said Boeing slowed 787 production and stopped deliveries for nearly two years starting in 2021 to ensure the planes met engineering specification in response to concerns raised by employees. “This was a clear demonstration of our commitment to listen and take action on employee feedback."

Irvin, the former employee, worked as a quality investigator from 2011 to 2017 and was responsible for investigating problems and recommending corrective action. He then worked as a manager overseeing quality on planes as they came out of final assembly.

He said inspectors were rewarded for signing off on higher numbers of planes, encouraging them to rush through inspections. And managers often pressured teams to forgo corrective actions if the prescribed steps would be time consuming or required too much manpower, he said.

Irvin said the recent death of John Barnett, another quality manager who raised concerns about the jet maker, prompted him to come forward. Police said they were investigating Barnett’s death as a suicide.

Police said Irvin was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in his car outside of a hotel in Charleston, where he was giving a deposition in a lawsuit he brought against Boeing accusing the company of retaliating against him for raising quality concerns.

Irvin said he spoke to Barnett less than two weeks before his death. The two men are represented by the same lawyer.

“It was a major shock to me," he said. “It was a stressful job. I know if I’d have stayed another five years, I’d have probably had a stroke."

Write to Sharon Terlep at

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