New Boeing whistleblower raises safety concerns about 787 Dreamliner. Here's a timeline of the company's recent problems.

A Boeing 737 Max aircraft
A Boeing 737 Max. (Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating claims made by a Boeing engineer about the company’s 787 and 777 jets.

Sam Salehpour, a quality engineer who had worked on the 787 and 777 aircraft, alleged that the planes were improperly fastened together and said he was worried that after years of use, the planes could break apart midflight.

Salehpour also alleged that after raising his concerns to Boeing, he was ignored and faced retaliation including receiving threats and being left out of meetings.

🚨 What just happened?

In a call on April 9, Salehpour’s lawyers told reporters that he saw firsthand how Boeing took “shortcuts” during 787 aircraft assembly, such as employees putting "excessive stress on major airplane joints, and embedded drilling debris between key joints on more than 1,000 planes.” Salehpour also said he noted issues with misalignment in the production of the 777, which was also “fixed” by employees using force.

"I literally saw people jumping on the pieces of the airplane to get them to align," he said, according to Reuters.

The FAA confirmed the investigation to the New York Times and said representatives had met with Salehpour on April 5.

FAA administrator Mike Whitaker told reporters that the agency was taking “a hard line” against Boeing following January’s Alaska Airlines episode.

“This won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing,” Whitaker said in a statement. “They must commit to real and profound improvements. Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way.”

🗓️ Let’s rewind. How did we end up here?

April 2024

  • FAA announces investigation into near-miss incident at LaGuardia Airport involving Southwest Airlines 737 on March 23.

  • Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 makes an emergency landing at Preston Smith International Airport after a small fire in the left engine.

  • Boeing pays Alaska Airlines $160 million to make up for losses the airline suffered following the mid-flight door plug blowout.

March 2024

  • The FBI is investigating the Alaska Airlines flight in January that saw a door plug blow off the plane midflight — and has told passengers they may be “a possible victim of a crime.”

  • The FAA’s 737 Max production audit finds multiple instances in which Boeing allegedly did not comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.

  • In two separate incidents, a Boeing 777-200 loses a wheel during takeoff from San Francisco and a Boeing 737 skids off the runway after landing in Houston.

  • The next week, a prominent Boeing whistleblower — former employee John Barnett — dies by suicide while in Charleston, S.C., for a deposition for a lawsuit against Boeing.

  • A Boeing 787 Dreamliner nose-dives during a flight from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand, injuring at least 50 people, on the same day a Boeing 777 flight from Sydney is forced to turn around due to a maintenance issue.

  • Another Boeing 777 is forced to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport after pilots report a flat tire.

  • A Boeing 737 that took off from San Francisco later that week is found to be missing a panel during a postflight inspection.

  • Boeing sues Virgin Galactic, accusing it of stealing trade secrets.

  • Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun announces he will be stepping down by the end of the year. The CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Stan Deal, is retiring and Boeing’s chairman, Larry Kellner, will not be seeking reelection as a board director.

  • A United Airlines Boeing 777 flight from San Francisco to Paris was diverted to Denver due to an engine issue.

  • A United Airlines Boeing 787 plane headed to Newark, N.J., from Tel Aviv, Israel, was forced to make an emergency landing at New York Stewart International Airport because of “extreme turbulence.” Seven passengers were taken to the hospital and 15 were treated on-site for injuries.

  • An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 jet from Honolulu to Anchorage, Alaska, was forced to turn back after a malfunctioning bathroom sink flooded the cabin.

Whistleblowers, nosedives and a DOJ investigation: Read more about Boeing’s March mishaps on Yahoo News

February 2024

  • The NTSB publishes a preliminary report that found the Alaska Airlines flight was missing four key bolts, which is why the door plug blew out.

January 2024

  • Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 experiences a door plug blowout midflight. The FAA subsequently grounds all Max 9 aircraft to investigate.

Read more from BBC News: Passenger describes being on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282

December 2023

  • Boeing urges airlines to inspect all 737 Max jets for potential loose hardware in the plane’s rudder control systems.

August 2023

  • Boeing reports a supplier quality issue with 737 Max planes involving improperly drilled holes.

October 2022

  • The FAA tells Boeing that some documents submitted for the certification review of the 737 Max 7 are incomplete.

March 2021

  • China’s aviation regulator claims there are major safety concerns with the Boeing Max jets.

November 2020

  • The FAA allows Boeing 737 Max planes to fly again.

September 2020

  • An 18-month-long investigation by a House of Representatives panel concludes that Boeing failed in its design and development of the Max aircraft and was not fully transparent with the FAA.

Read more from Reuters: U.S. lawmakers fault FAA, Boeing for deadly 737 Max crashes

January 2020

  • Boeing suspends all 737 production.

March 2019

  • Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, utilizing a Boeing 737 Max 8, reports a “flight control” problem to the control tower one minute after taking off from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The plane crashes six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board.

  • China decides to ground all Boeing 737 Max planes. The FAA follows.

November 2018

  • The FAA and Boeing announce they are investigating software and design changes on all 737 Max planes following the Lion Air crash.

October 2018

  • Lion Air Flight 610, a Boeing 737 Max aircraft, crashes 13 minutes after takeoff from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia. All 189 on board are killed.

⚖️ Boeing has had problems for years. Why is it being investigated now?

“We’ve known [about Boeing] for five years,” Mark Pegram, father of one of the Ethiopian Airlines flight victims, told NPR in March. “I think the rest of the world is finally waking up to it, that these weren’t just isolated incidents.”

Boeing has paid billions of dollars in settlements since 2018, and the company and its leaders entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in January 2021 with the Department of Justice that has so far helped them avoid criminal prosecution.

Boeing paid $1.77 billion to compensate airline customers, $243.6 million as a criminal fine and $500 million for a compensation fund for family members of crash victims, CNN reported.

A yearlong FAA-commissioned panel review was critical of the safety culture at Boeing, and found that executives and employees were not aligned with what the safety standards were, according to a report released in February. The investigation also found that many employees were afraid of retaliation for speaking up.