Four months before the first fatal crash of Boeing's 737 Max, a senior executive approached a company executive with concerns that the aircraft was riddled with production problems and potentially dangerous. This manager, Ed Pierson, plans to tell his story in Congress on Wednesday.
Employees at the Renton, Wash., Plant where the Max is produced, were overworked, exhausted and making mistakes, Pierson said in an interview. A cascade of damaged parts, missing tools and incomplete instructions prevented the construction of aircraft in time. The executives were putting pressure on the workers to finish the planes despite staff shortages and a chaotic factory floor.
"Frankly right now, all my internal warning tones are going off," said Pierson in an e-mail to the 737 Program Manager in June 2018, which was reviewed by The New York Times. "And for the first time in my life, I'm sorry to say that I'm reluctant to put my family on a Boeing plane."
Pierson, who is due to testify at a House Transportation Committee hearing on the two 737 Max crashes, asked Boeing to close Max's production line last year. But the company has continued to produce aircraft and has not made any major changes in response to its complaints. During the time when Pierson said the Renton facility was in disarray, he built the two planes that crashed and killed a total of 346 people.
Pierson did not raise concerns about the new automated system, known as MCAS, which caused the pilots of the two convicted flights to lose control. He focused on the potential risks to safety resulting from production problems.
Pierson retired in August 2018, in part because he was not comfortable with the conditions in the 737 factory. After Max's first crash in October 2018, he shared his concerns with Boeing Chief Executive Dennis A. Muilenburg and the company's board of directors. Boeing's lawyers, including his attorney general, spoke to Pierson about his complaints, according to Pierson and documents reviewed by The Times. But Pierson said the company had done nothing in response. Max has been immobilized since March, shortly after the second fatal accident.
Now, Pierson becomes public for the first time. In an interview, he expressed concern that many aircraft produced in 2018 were unsure and that Boeing was more focused on timeliness than on safety. On Wednesday, he will join witnesses, including Stephen Dickson, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, before the House committee, which is conducting a thorough investigation of Boeing.
His account of the distress gives new weight to reports that Boeing has thrown the 737 Max on the market and echoes claims of poor production of the 787 Dreamliner at the Boeing plant in North Charleston, SC. South.
Pierson believes that production problems may have played a role in accidents. In both accidents, the MCAS was triggered when a dawn installed on the aircraft fuselage malfunctioned.
"It makes no sense for new planes to encounter such problems early in their lives," he said.
Boeing challenged the notion of any link between production problems and accidents.
"Mr Pierson's suggestion of a link between his concerns and Max's recent accidents is absolutely unfounded," said a Boeing spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, in a statement. "None of the authorities investigating these accidents has found that the conditions of production in the factory 737 have contributed in any way to these accidents."
In the interview, Pierson also identified 13 cases, in addition to accidents, in which newly produced Max jets had safety incidents, including engine shutdowns and hydraulic problems.
"Boeing is deeply committed to encouraging its employees to raise issues – particularly those that could involve safety or quality – and offers several internal ways for employees to do that," said Johndroe. "Mr. Pierson did the right thing by raising his concerns."
Pierson described a chaotic factory that was striving to produce the 737 Max despite mounting problems. In early 2018, he said, Boeing had a significant delay in producing 737 aircraft. Delays have become 10 times more frequent, he said, and less than 10% of aircraft were produced on time.
Despite this, in June 2018, Boeing continued its plan to increase its production rate to 52 aircraft per month, up from 47 per month.
Pierson and his lawyers refused to answer if he asked for whistleblower protection or filed a complaint with federal whistleblowers. He hired a prominent plaintiff attorney, Eric Havian, and could earn money when he was pursuing such a case.
Meanwhile, Pierson said, a shortage of workers, including mechanics, electricians and technicians, has doubled the overtime rate at the factory. Workers were finishing the work in a mess, which resulted in additional errors. And Boeing executives exacerbated the problems, he added, reprimanding employees for the delays and urging them to work faster.
"What I saw first hand, the chaos and instability in the factory, is really troubling for me as a person who has been in the plane all their life" , did he declare.
Pierson first expressed his concerns to the 737 program leader, Scott Campbell, in June 2018. Campbell told Pierson that the company was focusing on safety, but did not acknowledge his suggestion to close the company. production line, a drastic decision that would have resulted in significant delays and significant costs for the company.
When Pierson met Campbell in July 2018, he said, he again urged Boeing to close the Max line. Pierson had spent decades in the Navy before joining Boeing and said he told Campbell that he had seen the military stop exercises on less serious concerns. In response, he says, Campbell said, "The military is not a for-profit organization."
Pierson retired from Boeing the following month, after 10 years in the business.
David Gelles c.2019 The New York Times Company
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