More Bad Headlines Strain Pilot Trust In Boeing

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More Bad Headlines Strain Pilot Trust In Boeing
Boeing's barrage of bad headlines isn't easy for pilots who fly the plane. American Airlines' pilots union tells Newsy the news erodes critical trust.

If Boeing's response to its 737 MAX groundings was damage control, now it's on full defense, refuting a report in The New York Times that says the culture at its South Carolina facility churns out "shoddy" production on its 787 Dreamliner.

"It's not just an ungrounding of the 737 MAX, it's an ungrounding of the confidence in the checks and balances in our entire system," Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for American Airlines' pilots' union, told Newsy.

Tajer is a pilot at American. He flies the 737, including the MAX. But as a spokesperson for American's pilots' union, he represents some 15,000 pilots — almost half of whom fly a Boeing jet. That includes more than 1,000 pilots who fly the 787.

"I've had a few, said they've read [the article], and it certainly gives them some concern," Tajer said.

American says it has 42 787s, some of which came out of Boeing's South Carolina plant. 

The Times says it talked to current and former employees at the North Charleston facility.

They said Boeing pressured them to speed up production, sometimes at a cost to production quality.

Debris left on planes.

One technician even saying he wouldn't plan to fly on a 787.

American Airlines told Newsy it "monitors the manufacturing process of our aircraft on-site and inspects each aircraft from start to finish. Prior to taking delivery of any aircraft, our team conducts additional inspections. Lastly, once we take delivery of an aircraft, it is flown to one of our maintenance bases for additional inspections, prior to any aircraft entering commercial service."

Tajer said American pilots have faith in that process.

"Are we concerned? Absolutely," he said.

There are no public reports of American Airlines pilots finding flaws similar to the ones described in the Times report. Pilots on other airlines have reported complaints with the 787.

But Tajer said the report further tests his colleagues' trust in Boeing, something already strained after 737 MAX pilots discovered the manufacturer didn't tell them about a key automation system, MCAS, that could trigger deadly nosedives if it malfunctioned, as it did on two flights. 

"You cannot process what happened with the 737 MAX and the MCAS, not being told the system even existed, let alone all the other stories coming out on that, and not have it contaminate your perception on other equipment," Tajer said. "It just makes us look even closer."

But the FAA's oversight of Boeing is also under criticism.

At an April 12 meeting about the 737 MAX, Tajer says the FAA raised eyebrows: telling pilots and airlines the agency didn't test a failure of the 737 MAX's MCAS feature.

"The FAA disclosed to us that the reason it wasn't tested was that Boeing had told them that it was a part of a speed trim system which was so transparent to the pilot that there was no need to test a failure of the MCAS. And they accepted that and therefore they did not test it,"  Tajer said.

The FAA responded to Newsy's question about that certification by outlining the process.

But it did not specifically address whether it tested the MCAS.

On the second of two deadly MAX flights since October, the pilots seem to have followed the standard checklist for recovering from an MCAS failure.

But their plane stayed in a deadly nosedive.

Tajer says the FAA told pilots they haven't reviewed that recovery checklist since Boeing's very first line of 737's took flight.

"They used the term, 'It's possible that checklist has not been validated and reviewed since 1967,'" he said.

The 737 has seen significant physical changes since then, and Tajer says it's time to revise the checklist.

Tajer said pilots asked the FAA "to accelerate the validation of" that and two other checklists that could have helped pilots on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 and Lion Air flight 610.

It's all training that pilots want added to the FAA's updated training on the MAX.

A proposal for that training is outlined in a report from a Flight Standardization Board, or FSB, reviewing the MAX.

But Tajer told Newsy pilots didn't initially have a chance to comment on the new proposal, because they didn't know it existed.

"The FSB draft had been completed before the [April 12] meeting and had an open comment period that had closed before our meeting," Tajer said. "We were not aware of the FSB draft, nor was, I understand, our company."

A window for feedback on the new training was closed within 10 days.

"That's a very short period of time, which we inquired as to why it was so short," Tajer said. "They relayed that they expected the energy on the MCAS software to run a bit quicker. We reminded them that we're not looking at our watches, nor do we have the calendar on our desk."

The FAA reopened a public comment period on the new proposal, which is due to close at the end of April.

The FAA told Newsy it followed its standard process for posting new reports.

Lynn Lunsford, an FAA spokesperson, said: "I can’t speculate on why somebody did or did not see the report when it was originally posted. Several groups asked for additional time and we agreed, which is why the draft is still a draft and the comment period is still open. We will evaluate all of the comments before the report is finalized."

Tajer said: "The FAA, as you can see, is under a lot of scrutiny for the checks and balances feature. That's what a safety culture does. We look to each other, we check each other's work, and when we think we're not living up to the highest standard, we call each other out on it — professionally — and we look for a correction."