Controversies aren't Boeing away for aircraft maker amid claims of faulty oxygen systems and wobbling wings

737 NG and 787 Dreamliner hit with safety flaw allegations

Boeing 737 NG doing some flight tests in the runway near the company factory at Renton Airport
Boeing 737 NG (Thiago B Trevisan / Shutterstock.com)

Ailing Boeing has been hit with a double whammy of recent controversies alleging safety flaws with its 737 NG (not the fatally flawed Max) and the 787 Dreamliner.

Boeing whistleblower John Barnett claimed to the BBC this morning that up to 25 per cent of the emergency passenger oxygen systems aboard the 787 were defective and would not work when called upon.

In addition, Barnett alleged Boeing had lost track of defective parts in its North Charleston factory and some of those parts could have found their way aboard aircraft on the production line.

"Boeing South Carolina is strictly driven by schedule and cost," he told the Beeb. Boeing denies his claims, telling the broadcaster: "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."

A US Federal Aviation Authority investigation from 2017 partly upheld Barnett's claims about spare parts, with Boeing telling the BBC today that it had "fully resolved the FAA's findings with regard to part traceability, and implemented corrective actions to prevent recurrence".

Oh... NG!

The allegations could not come at a worse time for Boeing. Over the past few weeks, reports of cracks in the 737 Next Generation (NG)'s attachment between its wings and the fuselage surfaced. Reuters reported that 38 out of 810 jets inspected in accordance with Boeing instructions showed unexpected cracks in the so-called "pickle fork" assembly that joins the wing to the fuselage, a critical joint in the aircraft's structure.

Already Boeing has been suffering financial problems as a result of the 737 Max grounding. The 737 NG design, comprising some of the most widely used models of the venerable 737 short-haul airliner, was supposed to be replaced by the Max. With the NG now potentially affected by a critical problem requiring expensive and time-consuming repairs that result in aircraft being grounded, Boeing's last civilian airliner cash cow could now be wobbling.

Last quarter Boeing Commercial Airplanes, the company's airliner division, posted a loss of $40m – as opposed to a profit in the year-ago quarter of more than $2bn.

While the results weren't as bad as they could have been because the shrinking profit margin was "partially offset by a higher margin on the 787 program", if the market is worried there are problems with the 787, then that last mainstay of Boeing's commercial airliner business could also be at risk.

Although some airlines have grounded significant numbers of 737 NGs, including Australia's Qantas, some are saying that it won't be such a big problem as it appears to be on first glance.

Boeing's share price appeared unaffected by this morning's news, though the US stock markets had not yet opened by the time of writing. ®

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