Boeing’s latest turbulence: What’s going on?

Boeing whistleblower John Barnett’s death happened the same week as several safety issues with the company’s aircraft.

In this image taken from video provided by Cali Planes, a United Airlines Boeing 777 bound for Japan loses a tire as it takes off from San Francisco International Airport.
A United Airlines Boeing 777 bound for Japan loses a tire as it takes off from San Francisco International Airport on March 7, 2024 [Cali Planes via AP]

The death of Boeing whistleblower John Barnett came after a week of Boeing making headlines over a series of safety-related issues.

Here is a recap of recent incidents that have shaken the reputation of the aircraft manufacturing giant:

Whistleblower found dead

John Barnett, 62, who reported safety problems at Boeing, died on Saturday from an apparent “self-inflicted” wound, according to a coroner in the state of South Carolina in the United States.

Barnett worked as a quality manager for the US aircraft giant for more than three decades until he retired in 2017.

The BBC, which first reported Barnett’s death, said he had been providing evidence in a whistleblower lawsuit against the company in recent days.

In 2019, Barnett alleged the aircraft maker, based just outside Washington, DC, had deliberately fitted planes with faulty parts and passengers on its 787 Dreamliner could be left without oxygen in the event of a sudden decompression. Boeing denied these allegations.

“We are saddened by Mr. Barnett’s passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends,” Boeing told Al Jazeera in a statement.

Fifty injured on Australia-New Zealand flight

A Chilean LATAM Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner on Monday dropped abruptly midair on a flight from Australia to New Zealand.

About 50 people were treated for mostly mild injuries by paramedics after the plane touched down in Auckland. Twelve people were taken to hospital, according to an ambulance spokesperson, and one was believed to be in serious condition.

The reason for the plane’s sudden drop is currently unexplained and is under investigation by New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission. Safety experts said most airplane accidents are caused by a combination of factors that need to be thoroughly investigated.

Boeing discloses names of employees regarding door blowout

In January, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft made an emergency landing in Portland after a door panel blew off in midair, leaving a gaping hole in the aircraft.

On Wednesday, Boeing provided US regulators with the names of employees on the team responsible for doors on the 737 MAX.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairperson Jennifer Homendy had earlier criticised Boeing’s failure to supply the names and some key records required in the agency’s ongoing investigation.

Other recent Boeing incidents

Last week marked a wave of incidents with Boeing aircraft in the US.

On March 4, an engine fire forced a Boeing 737 to make an emergency landing in Houston, Texas, soon after takeoff. The engine ingested some plastic bubble wrap that was on the airfield prior to departure, according to United Airlines.

In Portland, Oregon, a Boeing 737-800 was forced to make an emergency landing due to fumes in the cabin on Wednesday.

On Thursday, a tyre fell off a Boeing 777-200 after it took off from San Francisco, destroying a car. The plane was bound for Japan, but it was diverted to Los Angeles, where it landed safely.

A Boeing 737 MAX rolled off the runway in Houston and got stuck in the grass on Friday.

Previous history and controversies

Boeing, which leads the commercial aircraft market alongside Europe’s Airbus, has been under intense scrutiny over its safety record since two fatal crashes involving the Boeing 737 MAX in 2018 and 2019.

The jets were grounded worldwide for almost two years after a crash killed 189 people in Indonesia in October 2018 and another killed 157 people in Ethiopia five months later.

It was found that the crashes were due to defects in the automated flight control software, which activated erroneously. The software was improved, and the Boeing 737s were revamped and cleared to fly again.

In January’s Alaska Airlines incident, the door plug of the Boeing 737 MAX 9 flew off midair. While the 2018 and 2019 crashes were caused by design defects in the flight control system, this was a defect in manufacturing with loose hardware on the aircraft.

Source: Al Jazeera