US Navy admiral who kept nuclear warships safe joins Boeing to lead quality review

Boeing 737 MAX 9 plug door

A retired United States (US) Navy Admiral who spent eight years ensuring US nuclear-powered warships ran safely and effectively will lead a review of Boeing’s Quality Management System for commercial aircraft. 

The appointment by Boeing, confirmed on January 16, 2024, comes after an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 jet experienced a plug door blowout shortly after takeoff.  

On January 15, 2023, an internal message to Boeing employees from the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Stan Deal, set out a number of steps the planemaker would take to restore the trust of customers and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

In his message to employees, Deal said that Flight AS1282 showed that Boeing “is not where we need to be” and immediate action is required to “bolster” quality assurance.    

Measures include allowing 737 MAX operators to come into Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems factories for additional oversight inspections and bringing in an “outside party” to review its Quality Management System.  

Subsequently, Admiral Kirkland H. Donald, was announced as a new independent special advisor to Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun. 

Admiral Donald and a team of outside experts will assess all of Boeing’s Quality Management Systems at its manufacturing facilities and also look at commercial suppliers.  

“Admiral Donald is a recognized leader in ensuring the integrity of some of the most complex and consequential safety and quality systems in the world,” Calhoun said.  “I’ve asked him to provide an independent and comprehensive assessment with actionable recommendations for strengthening our oversight of quality in our own factories and throughout our extended commercial airplane production system.  He and his team will have any and all support he needs from me and from across The Boeing Company.” 

After serving as a nuclear trained submarine officer for 37 years, Admiral Donald’s most recent Navy post was as the Director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program

According to Boeing, the “program is recognized worldwide for excellence in reactor safety and reliability”. 

On January 11, 2024, the FAA formally notified Boeing that it had launched an investigation into the company due to the Alaska Airlines plug door blowout. 

The following day the government agency said that it would conduct an audit involving the 737-9 MAX production line and its suppliers to “evaluate Boeing’s compliance with its approved quality procedures” and explore the use of an independent third party to oversee Boeing’s inspections and its quality system. 

The FAA has grounded a total of 171 Boeing 737 MAX 9s, including 65 Alaska Airlines jets, after a plug door separated from an Alaska Airlines aircraft at just over 16,000 feet in the air.  

The incident occurred on January 5, 2024, shortly after takeoff from Portland International Airport (PDX) while flying to Ontario International Airport (ONT) in California.   

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