Boeing exec blamed paperwork for door plug blowout in briefing that irked NTSB

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 FAA investigates

Comments made by a Boeing executive during a media briefing that irked the NTSB included the claim that paperwork issues were to blame for the Alaska Airlines MAX 9 door plug blowout on January 5, 2024. 

On June 27, 2024, the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) castigated Boeing after discovering an executive disclosed non-public information regarding the 737-9 accident investigation to members of the media at a briefing two days previously.   

The NTSB claims that Boeing “blatantly violated” investigative regulations, as well as an agreement signed by the planemaker not to share information privy to the probe. 

“Boeing offered opinions and analysis on factors it suggested were casual to the accident,” the NTSB said in its statement.    

In response to the violation, the NTSB said Boeing will “no longer have access to the investigative information the NTSB produces as it develops the factual record of the accident”.   

According to Reuters, an angry letter was also sent to Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun later in the day from NTSB Office of Aviation Safety Director Timothy LeBaron. 

LeBaron wrote that the executive’s comments during the media briefing at Boeing’s Renton facility “released non-public investigative information and made unsubstantiated speculations about possible causes of the Jan. 5 door plug blowout”. 

He added: “We have verified that part of the released information was either inaccurate or unknown to the NTSB while other parts were not previously disclosed to the public.” 

The NTSB director also reaffirmed that it decided not to remove Boeing as a party to the door plug probe, though any further violations could lead to that happening.  

What the Boeing executive said during the media briefing 

In Timothy LeBaron’s letter to Dave Calhoun, he confirmed the executive that spoke to the media was Elizabeth Lund, the Senior Vice President of Quality for Boeing’s Commercial Airplane Unit. 

According to CNN, Lund told the group of journalists that a lack of paperwork was the reason why four bolts vital to holding the 737-9 door plug in place were not reinstalled during the plane’s production.   

The Seattle Times added that Lund said a “move crew” reinstalled the plug door after it was removed, so maintenance work could be carried out on some rivets in the cabin, but they “did not reinstall the retaining pins”. 

“That is not their job. Their job is to just close it, and they count on existing paperwork,” Lund said.  

Journalists at the briefing were also told that Boeing “believes that plug was opened without the correct paperwork”. 

Lund said: “The fact that one employee could not fill out one piece of paperwork in this condition and could result in an accident was shocking to all of us.”   

“We know the plug was opened, and the paperwork is not there,” she added. 

Paperwork issues at Boeing were not themself anything new in relation to the door plug probe, but Lund fleshed out more alleged details than had been previously heard.  

Responding to Lund’s briefing LeBaron wrote in his letter that only “NTSB personnel are authorized to publicly disclose investigative information and, even then, the disclosure is limited to factual information verified during the course of the investigation”.  

In a statement provided to CNN on June 27, 2024, Boeing said: “We deeply regret that some of our comments, intended to make clear our responsibility in the accident and explain the actions we are taking, overstepped the NTSB’s role as the source of investigative information. We apologize to the NTSB and stand ready to answer any questions as the agency continues its investigation.” 

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