Amid Whistleblower Complaints, Boeing Buys Spirit, Ending Outsourcing of Key Work on Planes

Monday Boeing announced plans to acquire its key supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, for $4.7 billion, according to the Associated Press — “a move that it says will improve plane quality and safety amid increasing scrutiny by Congress, airlines and the Department of Justice. Boeing previously owned Spirit, and the purchase would reverse a longtime Boeing strategy of outsourcing key work on its passenger planes.”

But meanwhile, an anonymous reader shared this report from Newsweek:

More than a hundred Boeing whistleblowers have contacted the U.S. aviation watchdog since the start of the year, Newsweek can reveal. Official figures show that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) whistleblowing hotline has seen a huge surge of calls from workers concerned about safety problems. Since January the watchdog saw a total of 126 reports, via various channels, from workers concerned about safety problems. In 2023, there were just 11….

After a visit from FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker to a Boeing factory earlier in the year, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun agreed to share details of the hotline with all Boeing employees. The FAA told Newsweek that the number of Boeing employees coming forward was a “sign of a healthy culture”…. Newsweek also spoke to Jon Holden, president of the 751 District for the International Association of Machinists, Boeing’s largest union which represents more than 32,000 aerospace workers. Holden said that numerous whistleblowers had complained to the FAA over Boeing’s attempt to cut staff and reduce inspections in an effort to “speed up the rate” at which planes went out the door…

Holden’s union is currently in contract negotiations with Boeing, and is attempting to secure a 40% pay rise alongside a 50-year guarantee of work security for its members.

CNN also reports on new allegations Wednesday from a former Boeing quality-control manager: that “for years workers at its 787 Dreamliner factory in Everett, Washington, routinely took parts that were deemed unsuitable to fly out of an internal scrap yard and put them back on factory assembly lines.”
In his first network TV interview, Merle Meyers, a 30-year veteran of Boeing, described to CNN what he says was an elaborate off-the-books practice that Boeing managers at the Everett factory used to meet production deadlines, including taking damaged and improper parts from the company’s scrapyard, storehouses and loading docks… Meyers’ claims that lapses he witnessed were intentional, organized efforts designed to thwart quality control processes in an effort to keep up with demanding production schedules. Beginning in the early 2000s, Meyers says that for more than a decade, he estimates that about 50,000 parts “escaped” quality control and were used to build aircraft. Those parts include everything from small items like screws to more complex assemblies like wing flaps. A single Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for example, has approximately 2.3 million parts…

Based on conversations Meyers says he had with current Boeing workers in the time since he left the company, he believes that while employees no longer remove parts from the scrapyard, the practice of using other unapproved parts in assembly lines continues. “Now they’re back to taking parts of body sections — everything — right when it arrives at the Everett site, bypassing quality, going right to the airplane,” Meyers said.

Company emails going back years show that Meyers repeatedly flagged the issue to Boeing’s corporate investigations team, pointing out what he says were blatant violations of Boeing’s safety rules. But investigators routinely failed to enforce those rules, Meyers says, even ignoring “eye witness observations and the hard work done to ensure the safety of future passengers and crew,” he wrote in an internal 2022 email provided to CNN.

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Boeing Fraud Violated Fatal MAX Crash Settlement, Says Justice Department, Seeking Guilty Plea on Criminal Charges

America’s Justice Department “is pushing for Boeing to plead guilty to a criminal charge,” reports Reuters, “after finding the planemaker violated a settlement over fatal 737 MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people, two people familiar with the matter said on Sunday.”

Boeing previously paid $2.5 billion as part of the deal with prosecutors that granted the company immunity from criminal prosecution over a fraud conspiracy charge related to the 737 MAX’s flawed design. Boeing had to abide by the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement for a three-year period that ended on Jan. 7. Prosecutors would then have been poised to ask a judge to dismiss the fraud conspiracy charge. But in May, the Justice Department found Boeing breached the agreement, exposing the company to prosecution.
A guilty plea could “carry implications for Boeing’s ability to enter into government contracts,” the article points out, “such as those with the U.S. military that make up a significant portion of its revenue…”

The proposal would require Boeing to plead guilty to conspiring to defraud the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in connection with the fatal crashes, the sources said. The proposed agreement also includes a $487.2 million financial penalty, only half of which Boeing would be required to pay, they added. That is because prosecutors are giving the company credit for a payment it made as part of the previous settlement related to the fatal crashes of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights. Boeing could also likely be forced to pay restitution under the proposal’s terms, the amount of which will be at a judge’s discretion, the sources said.

The offer also contemplates subjecting Boeing to three years of probation, the people said. The plea deal would also require Boeing’s board to meet with victims’ relatives and impose an independent monitor to audit the company’s safety and compliance practices for three years, they said.
“Should Boeing refuse to plead guilty, prosecutors plan to take the company to trial, they said…” the article points out.

“Justice Department officials revealed their decision to victims’ family members during a call earlier on Sunday.”

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Boeing Passenger Jet Nearly Crashes Due To Software Glitch

Bruce66423 shares a report from The Independent: A potential disaster was narrowly avoided when a packed passenger plane took off just seconds before it was about to run out of runway because of a software glitch. The Boeing aircraft, operated by TUI, departed from Bristol Airport for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria on 9 March with 163 passengers on board when it struggled to take off. The 737-800 plane cleared runway nine with just 260 metres (853ft) of tarmac to spare at a height of 10ft. It then flew over the nearby A38 road at a height of just 30 metres (100ft) travelling at the speed of around 150kts (about 173mph). The A38 is a major A-class busy road, connecting South West England with the Midlands and the north.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), part of the Department for Transport, said the incident was the result of insufficient thrust being used during take-off. Pilots manually set the thrust level following a software glitch that Beoing was aware of before take-off. “A Boeing 737-800 completed a takeoff from Runway 09 at Bristol Airport with insufficient thrust to meet regulated performance,” the AAIB report said. “The autothrottle (A/T) disengaged when the takeoff mode was selected, at the start of the takeoff roll, and subsequently the thrust manually set by the crew (84.5% N1 ) was less than the required takeoff thrust (92.8% N1 ). Neither pilot then noticed that the thrust was set incorrectly, and it was not picked up through the standard operating procedures (SOPs).”

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Pew Research Finds 64% of Americans Live Within Two Miles of a Public EV Charger

“64% of Americans live within 2 miles of a public charging station,” Pew Research reported this week, citing a survey paired with an analysis of U.S. Energy Department data that found over 61,000 publicly accessible charging stations.

And those who live closest to public chargers “view EVs more positively.”

The vast majority of EV charging occurs at home, but access to public infrastructure is tightly linked with Americans’ opinions of electric vehicles themselves. Our analysis finds that Americans who live close to public chargers view EVs more positively than those who are farther away. Even when accounting for factors like partisan identification and community type, Americans who live close to EV chargers are more likely to say they:
– Already own an electric or hybrid vehicle
– Would consider buying an EV for their next vehicle
– Favor phasing out production of new gasoline cars and trucks by 2035
– Are confident that the U.S. will build the necessary infrastructure to support large numbers of EVs on the roads
The number of EV charging stations has more than doubled since 2020. In December 2020, the Department of Energy reported that there were nearly 29,000 public charging stations nationwide. By February 2024, that number had increased to more than 61,000 stations. Over 95% of the American public now lives in a county that has at least one public EV charging station.

EV charging stations are most accessible to residents of urban areas: 60% of urban residents live less than a mile from the nearest public EV charger, compared with 41% of those in the suburbs and just 17% of rural Americans.
California is home to about 25% of all of America’s charging stations, according to the report. But this means EV-owning Californians “might also have a harder time than residents of many states when it comes to the actual experience of finding and using a charger.”

Despite having the most charging stations of any state, California’s 43,780 individual public charging ports must provide service for the more than 1.2 million electric vehicles registered to its residents. That works out to one public port for every 29 EVs, a ratio that ranks California 49th across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

At the other end of the spectrum, Wyoming (one-to-six), North Dakota (one-to-six) and West Virginia (one-to-eight) have the most ports relative to the much smaller number of EVs registered in their respective states.

Another interesting finding? “Attitudes toward EVs don’t differ that much based on how often people take long car trips.

“In fact, those who regularly drive more than 100 miles are slightly more likely to say they currently own an electric vehicle or hybrid — and also to say they’d consider purchasing an EV in the future — when compared with those who make these trips less often.”

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Feds Add Nine More Incidents To Waymo Robotaxi Investigation

Nine more accidents have been discovered by federal safety regulators during their safety investigation of Waymo’s self-driving vehicles in Phoenix and San Francisco. TechCrunch reports: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) opened an investigation earlier this month into Waymo’s autonomous vehicle software after receiving 22 reports of robotaxis making unexpected moves that led to crashes and potentially violated traffic safety laws. The investigation, which has been designated a “preliminary evaluation,” is examining the software and its ability to avoid collisions with stationary objects and how well it detects and responds to “traffic safety control devices” like cones. The agency said Friday it has added (PDF) another nine incidents since the investigation was opened.

Waymo reported some of these incidents. The others were discovered by regulators via public postings on social media and forums like Reddit, YouTube and X. The additional nine incidents include reports of Waymo robotaxis colliding with gates, utility poles, and parked vehicles, driving in the wrong lane with nearby oncoming traffic and into construction zones. The ODI said it’s concerned the robotaxis “exhibiting such unexpected driving behaviors may increase the risk of crash, property damage, and injury.” The agency said that while it’s not aware of any injuries from these incidents, several involved collisions with visible objects that “a competent driver would be expected to avoid.” The agency also expressed concern that some of these occurred near pedestrians. NHTSA has given Waymo until June 11 to respond to a series of questions regarding the investigation.

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Minor Car Crashes Mean High Tech Repairs

“With all the improvements in car safety over the decades, the recent addition of a plethora of high tech sensors and warnings comes with increased costs,” writes longtime Slashdot reader smooth wombat. “And not just to have to have them on your car. Any time you get into an accident, even a minor one, it will most likely require a detailed examination of any sensors which may have been affected and their subsequent realignment, replacement, and calibration.” CNN reports: Some vehicles require “dynamic calibration,” which means, once the sensors and cameras are back in place, a driver needs to take the vehicle out on real roads for testing. With proper equipment attached the car can, essentially, recalibrate itself as it watches lane lines and other markers. It requires the car to be driven for a set distance at a certain speed but weather and traffic can create problems. “If you’re in Chicago or L.A., good luck getting to that speed,” said [Hami Ebrahimi, chief commercial officer at Caliber] “or if you’re in Seattle or Chicago or New York, with snow, good luck picking up all the road markings.”

More commonly, vehicles need “static calibration,” which can be done using machinery inside a closed workshop with a flat, level floor. Special targets are set up around the vehicle at set distances according to instructions from the vehicle manufacturer. “The car [views] those targets at those specific distances to recalibrate the world into the car’s computer,” Ebrahimi said. These kinds of repairs also demand buildings with open space that meet requirements including specific colors and lighting. And it requires special training for employees to perform these sorts of recalibrations, he said

“The change that we’ve seen in the last five years is greater than we’ve seen, probably, in the last five decades,” said Todd Dillender, chief operating officer of Caliber Collision, one of the biggest auto body repair companies in the United States with more than 1,700 locations across 41 states. […] With a rapidly changing industry, qualified auto body repair technicians are in short supply, just as they are in the engine repair business. That’s also led to upward pressure on pay in the industry as technicians have to be highly qualified and educated, Dillender said. That’s good for people who work in the industry, of course, but tougher for those who pay, and for the insurance companies who, in turn, pay for the repairs. A new study from consumer automotive group AAA says the cost to fix sensors and cameras in new vehicles “now accounts for more than a third of the post-crash repair costs,” reports CNN. However, “no one, including AAA, recommends not getting these features because of repair costs,” since many of them can cut crash rates in half and improve a car’s overall safety.

“They’re not going to prevent everything,” said Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering at AAA. “And when you are in a crash, there are additional costs so it’s sort of the old ‘there’s no free ride’ when it comes to these things.”

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