A former Boeing employee has expressed concerns about the oxygen system used in the 787 Dreamliner, claiming passengers would be left without oxygen in the event of a rapid decompression.

John Barnett, a Boeing employee for 32 years, told the BBC that up to 25 percent of 787 Dreamliners have been fitted with potentially faulty oxygen system components, rendering passengers and crew in great danger in the event of a rapid decompression.

Barnett was a quality control manager for Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina production facility between 2010 and 2017, he claims the faulty components were installed during this time.

2010, and the following years after, saw Boeing battle plenty of 787 Dreamliner production woes and Barnett suggests that the pressure placed on employees at the time resulted in safety short-comings and rushed assembly processes.

Boeing South Carolina assembly line

When decommissioning oxygen systems that had received minor cosmetic damage and were deemed unsatisfactory for the customer, Barnett said he found some of the oxygen bottles failed to discharge in their intended fashion.

Due to this finding, Barnett requested a controlled test to be conducted by Boeing’s research and development unit. The tests were completed using oxygen systems straight from assembly stock, the same electronic control systems and the same failure modes. Barnett claims 300 systems were tested, of which 75 failed to operate correctly.

Attempting to have the failures investigated further, Barnett faced a full stop from Boeing who refused his claims. Adding to the the situation, Barnett told the BBC that his findings were denied by the Federal Aviation Administration; as Boeing said they were already working on the problem.

Lost and Found

As well as the oxygen system claims, Barnett says Boeing’s South Carolina plant had a terrible habit of losing track of defective items; in some cases they even had them installed in production aircraft.

53 “non-conforming” parts were reportedly lost, with production workers apparently taking parts from defective bins to use on final aircraft assembly.

Since the presentation of these findings, the Federal Aviation Administration has launched an investigation and issued a notice to Boeing to fix the problem; which has since been dealt with.

Despite this, there is no clear indication if any of these “lost” or “defective” components made their way onto aircraft in commercial service.

The Legal Process Begins

John Barnett is in the process of taking legal action against Boeing, accusing the company of “denigrating his character and hampering his career” as a result of pointing out various issues he identified.

Boeing denies these claims stating he had well-known plans to retire. As per the BBC, Boeing says it “has in no way negatively impacted Mr Barnett’s ability to continue in whatever chosen profession he so wishes”.

“We encourage and expect our employees to raise concerns and when they do, we thoroughly investigate and fully resolve them.”

Boeing

Multiple Reports

This isn’t the first time Boeing has faced significant complaints about their South Carolina facility, with recent publications noting airline dissatisfaction with 787 Dreamliners rolling from the line.

You can read about this here:

Barnett, as well as other whistleblowers, suggests the problem is far worse; not because of the reported incidents at South Carolina, but because of the corporate culture Boeing has been accused of having towards airliner production.

Boeing has completely denied any claims about their production facilities and has released the following statement:

“Safety, quality and integrity are at the core of Boeing’s values”

“Our highest priority is the quality and safety of our products.  Boeing has strict methods which ensure that the final product of our equipment systems comply with our design and regulatory requirements.  There is no safety of flight issue regarding these two matters.  Both matters were captured and addressed through normal FAA-approved processes.”

Boeing

Deepening the matters are the investigations surrounding the 737 MAX, which have broadened to the South Carolina 787 Dreamliner production facility, potentially confirming claims that Boeing may have a poor safety culture.

Whether these concerns turn out to be true, or just stories from a disgruntled ex-employee, will be in the result of the ongoing investigation.

Boeing is facing plenty of fire from multiple directions, with the CEO of Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg, dealing with damning comments in Congress about his position, his pay and the 737 MAX situation.

Attempting to make things better in the eyes of the families lost in Lion Air JT610 and Ethiopian Airlines ET302, Muilenburg has turned down his 2019 bonus and equity grants worth at least $10 million.

Sam Chui has visited the South Carolina 787 Dreamliner facility and you can check out the process involved in building an aircraft here:

What are your thoughts about this situation?

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