US officials probing Boeing whistleblower claims on 787, 777

NEW YORK: Federal aviation authorities are investigating claims by a Boeing engineer that the 787 Dreamliner suffers from assembly defects that threaten safety, US officials said yesterday.

Attorneys for the whistleblower, Sam Salehpour, accuse the company of putting profit over safety — and retaliating against him after he raised concerns by "involuntarily" transferring him to the 777 programme.

At the 777 programme, he raised more issues, for which his attorneys say he was threatened with termination.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the investigation after the claims were outlined in a New York Times article describing charges from Salehpour, who has been at Boeing more than 10 years.

"Rather than heeding his warnings, Boeing prioritised getting the planes to market as quickly as possible, despite the known, well-substantiated issues Mr Salehpour raised," said attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, who pointed to "critical defects" on nearly 1,500 Boeing planes.

Boeing, which has been under scrutiny following recent safety problems, released a detailed defence of the aircraft, saying it is "fully confident" in the Dreamliner and denying charges it retaliated against the worker.

A Senate investigative committee has scheduled a hearing for April 17 titled "Examining Boeing's Broken Safety Culture: Firsthand Accounts," said a spokesperson for Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.

"Voluntary reporting without fear of reprisal is a critical component in aviation safety," the FAA said.

In its statement, Boeing said the issues raised by the critic "have been subject to rigorous engineering examination under FAA oversight," adding that retaliation is "strictly prohibited" at the company.

The whistleblower allegation comes on the heels of a January Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 flight that made an emergency landing after a fuselage panel blew out mid-flight.

In the wake of that incident, the FAA has frozen Boeing's MAX production output, while insisting the plane maker demonstrate improvement in operations and quality control. -- AFP

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