Former Boeing Employee Raises Concerns Over 787 Oxygen Supply

***Update 06/11/19 @20:27 UTC – Added input from Boeing on the situation***

A former Boeing employee has come out with allegations regarding the oxygen supply on the 787 Dreamliner. John Barnett, a former quality control manager at Boeing’s South Carolina factory, says that some 25% of the emergency oxygen systems installed in Dreamliners could be defective. Boeing denies the claim.

Boeing 787
A whistleblower has alleged that there could be big problems with the 787. Photo: Boeing

25% non-functional

A Boeing whistleblower has told the BBC that passengers flying on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner could be in trouble if the cabin were to depressurize. John Barnet, a former Boeing employee of 32 years, claims that around a quarter of the oxygen systems on board operational 787 aircraft could be faulty.

Mr. Barnett was the quality control manager for Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina factory, which is one of two where the Dreamliners are assembled. He was in his position from 2010 until March 2017, during which time he says that the faulty parts were fitted.

Oxygen Masks
25% of the oxygen systems were found to be faulty. Photo; Miikka H via Flickr

He claims that, in 2016, he identified a problem with the emergency oxygen systems. These are the systems that supply oxygen to masks that automatically drop down from the ceiling in the event of sudden depressurization. Barnett noted that, when he was decommissioning systems that had suffered minor cosmetic damage, some oxygen bottles were not discharging when they should have.

As a result, he arranged for controlled testing to be carried out by Boeing’s R&D division. These tests were on brand new, undamaged bottles and mimicked the way the systems would be used in the event of an emergency. The test revealed that, out of the 300 systems inspected, 75 did not function – a failure rate of 25%.

Barnett goes on to say that any attempt to further look into the issue were stonewalled by Boeing management. He raised the issue with the FAA, he says, but again drew a blank as the FAA claimed Boeing was already looking into it.

Workers under pressure

Mr. Barnett points the finger of blame at an immense amount of pressure that employees at the plant were felt to be under. He says that the rush to get new aircraft off the production line meant corners were cut and safety was compromised. He told the BBC that the culture at Boeing is,

“…all about speed, cost-cutting and bean count (jobs sold)”. He claims managers are “not concerned about safety, just meeting schedule”.

“Based on my years of experience and past history of plane accidents, I believe it’s just a matter of time before something big happens with a 787,” he says.

“I pray that I am wrong.”

Qantas 787 Project Sunrise
Almost 900 Dreamliners are in operation all over the world. Photo: Qantas

He goes on to allege that workers were known to even fit substandard parts from the scrap bins to aircraft, just to get the job done. According to him, Boeing also failed to track faulty parts through the system, thereby allowing defective items to become ‘lost’. This allegation is supported by a 2017 FAA report in which 53 faulty parts were identified as being missing.

It’s not the first time production practices at the North Charleston facility have been called into question. Back in April this year, issues were raised with the quality of the aircraft leaving this plant, with allegations of waste material and metal shavings being found on aircraft. Some airlines, including Qatar, even rejected completed planes or requested to only receive them from Everett as a result.

Boeing 787 factory
Boeing’s South Carolina 787 Factory. Photo: Boeing

In the wake of the 737 MAX, the South Carolina plant was subpoenaed by the US DoJ, suggesting the MAX investigation was spreading to the wider culture at Boeing.  However, Boeing has vehemently denied any issues at the factory, saying that the rumors painted “a skewed and inaccurate picture of the program and of our team here at Boeing South Carolina.”

Boeing denies the claims

Boeing has responded to Simple Flying’s request for comment with detailed information on the situation. They told us,

Boeing and the FAA implement a rigorous inspection process to ensure that all our airplanes are safe and built with the highest levels of safety and quality. FAA inspectors are located at all Boeing final assembly facilities and as part of their normal regulatory oversight process, and have complete access to the factory and flight line. All our planes go through multiple safety and test flights, as well as extensive Boeing, FAA, and airline inspections before they leave our factory and before the traveling public boards those planes for the first time. We encourage and expect our employees to raise concerns and when they do, we thoroughly investigate and fully resolve them, in cooperation with the FAA, where appropriate.

In 2017, Boeing’s normal 787 production testing identified some oxygen bottles received from the supplier that were not deploying properly. We removed those bottles from production so that no defective bottles were placed on airplanes, and we addressed the matter with the supplier through Boeing’s normal FAA-approved processes. With respect to in-service airplanes, the oxygen bottles’ functionality is tested at regular intervals as part of the airlines’ regular operational maintenance, and any bottles found to be malfunctioning are replaced. The FAA confirmed this is not a safety of flight issue.

The passenger oxygen system on each airplane, including the oxygen bottles within that system, is tested multiple times before delivery. The system is also tested at regular intervals once the airplane enters into service. If at any time the system or a subcomponent does not pass the test, it does not remain on the airplane—it is replaced. Of course, that happens sometimes—which is why the robust testing exists. There are a number of reasons that a particular system might not pass the test, necessitating replacement, and Boeing has worked closely with its supplier to identify those root causes and continuously work to improve the first-pass rate of the product—just as Boeing does with all its suppliers. But the core point is this:  Every passenger oxygen system installed on our airplanes is tested multiple times before delivery to ensure it is functioning properly, and must pass those tests to remain on the airplane.

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Peter

What a stunning article! Its content fits in perfectly with the behavior that we saw last week at the US Senate & Congressional hearings, in which the Iowa Farmboy dodged questions, fudged, pivoted, repeated hot-air statements and was unaware of basic information within his company.

Another example of Boeing’s race to the bottom. Here’s a further article on some interesting accounting issues at Boeing:
https://leehamnews.com/2019/11/05/boeing-charges-costs-nearly-35bn-since-1996/#more-31580

However, the penny may be starting to drop — albeit slowly. This Reuters article indicates that the Iowa Farmboy will have to suffer a cut in his remuneration in 2019 and 2020:
https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/05/business/boeing-ceo-pay/index.html

Paul Proctor

Here’s the problem with whistleblowers—they are single source, and usually pissed off at the company or life for some reason. I call it ‘sport bitching’ and the stories that result do not give an accurate picture a survey of many employees in the same area would. I can tell you that as a 15-year AvWeek editor and bureau chief, I could call 50 pilots, or maintainers or factory workers and find three or four with the same bitch. Then, using their comments, I could string together a sensationalist (but untrue) story and headline. If this guy’s claims have been looked… Read more »

Peter

A modification of your opening statement, to express my view:
“Here’s the problem with Boeing management—they are single source, and usually trying to hide something from the public or regulators for all sorts of reasons. I call it ‘sport lying’, and the stories that result do not give an accurate picture that an external investigation in the same area would.”

After the 3-ring circus we’ve all been subjected to with regard to the MAX, I’d believe Satan himself before I’d believe an official statement from Boeing.

Mark

You do realise the Qantas photo is of an A330?

Tom Boon

Thanks for spotting, we’ve addressed this.

Norman

Now why on earth would we not believe and trust the Boeing management over a mere technical guy on the shop floor.? Hmmmm?
I believe, although I can’t substantiate it, that Singapore Airlines, as well as Qatar, also subjects the 787 to rigorous inspection on delivery. I also have been believing for about 18 months that it’s just a matter of time before something big happens with a 787 due to manufacturing deficiencies.

Peter

KLM also have to do such rigorous inspection. You may recall from earlier this year that delivery of a 787-10 to KLM was delayed, thus missing KLM’s 100-year celebrations. We subsequently found out that the delay was caused by quality issues.

In-Frequent Flyer

North Charleston has always had some quality control problems. I mean, a fact you was built there because of Cheaper labor. Everett on the other hand, continue to produce top quality stuff. And before you make a mention of the max oh, that’s built in Renton.

Paul Proctor

I believe the quality control data indicates differently, although Boeing won’t release it.

Scot

If it is Boeing then I am NOT going!

pats

Wow, defective oxygen generators ? So it’s OK that up to 25% of the passengers die of hypoxia after a depressurization event ? Let’s all hold our breath while the captain takes the plane down to 10,000 feet ??

Paul Proctor

Don’t believe everything you read…

Peter

Indeed! Especially when it’s a retort from Boeing saying that a plane is safe 😉

Peter

More 787 issues on FlightGlobal this morning…this time relating to lightning conduction in the wings:

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/us-congress-raises-new-serious-concerns-with-787-a-462080/