After Boeing ended our interview, Al Jazeera offered the company the option of continuing later that day or the following day. Boeing declined and so we sent them questions in writing. Below are the full questions and answers, based on our reporting on the 787 “Dreamliner”.
On the Boeing facility in Charleston, South Carolina
Question 1: Employees at Boeing’s 787 assembly facility in South Carolina have told Al Jazeera that drugs are being used and sold in the plant. Is Boeing aware of such allegations? To Boeing’s knowledge, are drugs being used or sold at its 787 assembly facility in South Carolina? Does Boeing have any comment on these allegations?
Question 2: Has Boeing taken disciplinary action against employees at Boeing’s 787 assembly facility in South Carolina for consumption of drugs or alcohol while at work? If yes, how many employees have been the subject of such action? When?
Question 3: Does Boeing conduct random drug testing of its workers at Boeing’s 787 assembly facility in South Carolina? If not, why not? Some workers at the plant claim they have never been tested for drugs. Does Boeing have any comment on that claim?
Responses to Questions 1, 2 and 3:
Boeing: Boeing South Carolina follows the Boeing enterprise-wide Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace Program policy. Drug testing of employees is done in accordance with Boeing policy and procedures across all facilities in accordance with applicable laws. Boeing thoroughly investigates any employee reports of policy deviation, and appropriate corrective action is taken if needed.
Question 4: Are the quality assurance procedures on the 787 assembly line at Boeing’s 787 assembly facility in South Carolina different from those in Everett? How?
Boeing: No. Boeing uses one common FAA-approved 787 production and quality system.
Question 5: Does Boeing have comment on allegations by employees that workmanship at the South Carolina plant is so poor that the plant has become a liability, significantly behind schedule and plagued by production errors? Many of the problems with the 787 are being covered up? Employees have told managers about problems and nothing has been done? That employees are pushed to meet schedule regardless of quality? Several employees from Boeing’s South Carolina plant say they would not fly in the 787s they build based on the quality they see. Does Boeing have comment on these allegations?
Boeing: 787 airplanes delivered from both South Carolina and Washington final assembly and delivery operations meet the highest safety and quality standards that are verified through robust test, verification and inspection processes. Boeing uses one common FAA-approved 787 production and quality system. Boeing is delivering high-quality 787 Dreamliners from both Everett and North Charleston that are performing well and to customers’ expectations.
Question 6: According to employees, within the last year, a customer cancelled all orders from Boeing’s 787 assembly facility in South Carolina and insisted on accepting aircraft only from Boeing’s facility in Everett? Is this true? Does Boeing have any comment on these allegations?
Boeing: We do not discuss conversations we may or may not have had with our customers in the media. We have delivered South Carolina-built airplanes from the Everett Delivery Center and have delivered Everett-built airplanes from the South Carolina Delivery Center. We will continue to enjoy this flexibility as production requirements dictate. We can state no orders have been cancelled as a result of where airplanes are built or delivered.
Question 7: Any comment on the statement that Boeing moved its plant to South Carolina because it wanted to weaken the union?
Boeing: We have explained the reasons for our decision to place a new 787 line in Charleston repeatedly in our public statements at the time the decision was made almost five years ago, and we refer you to those statements.
On the documents obtained by Al Jazeera
Question 1: Did Boeing change its quality protocols in order to expedite schedule as the document seems to suggest?
Boeing: No. The process specifications referenced in this document from 2010 were fully consistent with Boeing’s robust quality assurance system. While we will not discuss in detail our proprietary production processes, we note that the document itself concludes by saying that the process changes “do not signify authorization to ship or accept parts which do not meet engineering and quality requirements.”
Question 2: Is it accurate to say that Boeing’s managers in Everett overruled the quality inspectors’ orders to stop work and fix problems in the Alenia Foggia factory that did not allegedly meet quality standards?
Boeing: No. This correspondence made it clear to the supplier that it could continue production with Boeing monitoring for quality. We do not compromise on product safety or quality. Beyond that, we will not comment in the media on our communications with our supplier partners.
Question 3: Boeing engineers have told Al Jazeera that based on their direct experience working on the 787 and other Boeing programs they feel these documents are examples of instances in which Boeing cut corners, placing schedule before quality. One engineer claimed deviating from procedure compromised quality. Does Boeing make schedule a priority over quality? Does Boeing have any comment on these allegations?
Boeing: Safety is, and always has been, our priority. We are committed to working with our customers, the FAA, other regulatory agencies and stakeholders to ensure the integrity of our production system. Quality is not compromised for schedule.
On the battery
Question 1: Does Boeing believe its testing of the 787 lithium batteries during the development of the 787 was adequate? Why? Any comment on claims that though the standard Boeing complied with for testing its batteries was written by the FAA especially for the Dreamliner, it was a weak standard? Any comment on the claim that Boeing chose the most powerful but also the most volatile battery for the 787, the riskiest battery ever permitted on a commercial aircraft? Did Boeing ever find the root cause of the battery failures? Scientists we spoke with have doubts that the current fix (encasing the batteries in a steel case with more insulation and an exhaust for the dangerous gases) is sufficient. Does Boeing have any comment?
Boeing: As discussed above, these issues have been discussed extensively in the international media, and Boeing has responded to these questions publicly. With that said, we reiterate here that we are confident in the enhanced battery system on the 787. It includes improvements in production, design improvements to battery itself, changes to the battery charger and finally the encasement and exhaust structure, which ensures that any battery cell venting will not affect the airplane. The battery enhancement has been evaluated and accepted by federal and international authorities. It has been in service for well over a year and has performed as expected in service. The special condition for lithium ion batteries for the 787 was identical to the requirements for other airplanes, but as a matter of standard practice, the FAA issued it specific to the 787 during its development – just as it did for the A380 and A350. It was based on the state of the art of testing at the time it was issued. Boeing chose the battery that best met the needs of the 787 including all federal and international safety standards.
On John Woods
Question 1: John Woods, an employee who worked in the South Carolina plant writing repair instructions in 2009, claims managers told him to remove requirements from his work instructions because they would take too much time and that he witnessed damaged parts ignored, papered over, and hidden from view. Is this true? Any comment? Woods filed a complaint to Boeing Human Resources alleging that he was harassed by his superiors because he refused to break rules and compromise quality. Why was he fired? Did Boeing put Woods under performance review and later fire him because of this? Did Boeing take any action against those whom Woods claims pressured him to break rules and compromise quality? If not, why not? Does Boeing have any other comment?
Boeing: We are confident that there is no merit to this more than two-year-old original lawsuit and many subsequent allegations and legal appeals by Mr. Woods. This has also been apparent from multiple judicial decisions in which federal courts and federal agencies have found no merit to Mr. Woods’ litany of complaints and allegations. Boeing takes its obligations under the labor laws seriously, and we respect employee rights and comply with all labor laws. We will not comment further about specifics in any current or future litigation.
Question 2: Any comment on the statement that the airplane used at the 2007 rollout of the Dreamliner was a shell or a fake. Did Boeing executives know at the time that it was just a shell?
Boeing: These questions were publicly addressed by the Company years ago, and we will not add to that record here.
Al Jazeera wrote to Boeing again later seeking clarifications from the company on a number of its previous answers.
Q: It would be helpful if you could clarify the position regarding the suggestion that a customer cancelled all orders from the 787 facility in South Carolina. You said that no orders have been cancelled as a result of where airplanes are built or delivered, but can you confirm that no customer has ever stipulated that their airplanes should only have been built at Everett?
Boeing: Correct, no airplane orders have been cancelled as a result of where they are built, nor have [sic] any customer stipulated where they want their aircraft built whether that’s Everett or South Carolina.
Q: You mentioned that questions relating to the 2007 rollout had been publicly addressed by Boeing years ago, but I understand we have been unable to locate any press releases or interviews from Boeing. Would you point us towards whatever was said by Boeing on this subject, and ideally provide a copy of any press release or public statement that was issued at the time in relation to these claims?
[Boeing offered links to the following two articles in response.]
Q: There was also a query relating to the workers. You have said that one common 787 production and quality system is used, but would it be fair to say that workers at Everett are more experienced in the aircraft industry and have benefitted from more training than those at the South Carolina facility?
Boeing: The quality of 787s built by the teams in Everett and North Charleston are identical. By U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulation, the workforce at both sites follow the same detailed build instructions and use the same tools and processes. There is one approved 787 production and quality system that holds both Everett and South Carolina to the highest standards and our in-service experience demonstrates the parity of airplanes built at the two sites.
Q: Can you point us to any judicial decision on the substantive merits of Mr Woods’ allegations of inferior quality workmanship, as opposed to rulings that he was out of time to bring his claims?
Boeing: Mr. Woods has filed three lawsuits against Boeing and not one of the Federal Courts hearing the cases ruled in Mr. Woods’ favor. Where the court addressed substantive findings, it found against Mr. Woods and in favor of Boeing. As we mentioned in our previous response, we’re confident that there is no merit to this more than two-year-old original lawsuit and many subsequent allegations and legal appeals by Mr. Woods. This has also been apparent from multiple judicial decisions in which federal courts and federal agencies have found no merit to Mr. Woods’ litany of complaints and allegations. Boeing takes its obligations under the labor laws seriously, and we respect employee rights and comply with all labor laws.
Since the correspondence above, Boeing has issued a statement on its own website.