US senator urges FAA to ensure accountability in Boeing quality plan

FILE PHOTO: Boeing's logo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. senator overseeing aviation issues on Monday urged the head of the Federal Aviation Administration to require transparency and accountability in Boeing's quality turnaround effort.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who chairs a subcommittee on aviation, said "Boeing's safety and quality assurances will be meaningless without appropriate transparency and accountability." Boeing on Thursday submitted a comprehensive quality improvement plan after FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker in late February gave Boeing 90 days to develop a comprehensive plan to address "systemic quality-control issues."

Whitaker spoke with Duckworth by phone Monday. He will be on Capitol Hill Tuesday to brief members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The FAA and Boeing did not immediately comment.

"Regardless of how many planes Boeing builds, we need to see a strong and unwavering commitment to safety and quality that endures over time," Whitaker said last week. "This is about systemic change, and there's a lot of work to be done."

Whitaker in February barred Boeing from boosting production of its best-selling plane after a door panel blew out during a Jan. 5 flight on a new 737 MAX 9 operated by Alaska Airlines. He said last week he did not expect Boeing to win approval to increase production of the MAX "in the next few months" and has had no discussions with Boeing yet about the issue.

Boeing disclosed six critical, safety-focused production areas it will address. Key performance measures include employee proficiency, the number of hours to address issues, including the total number of rework hours per airplane, and supplier shortages.

Boeing said the data "will provide real-time insights into production system health, enabling the company to identify and remediate potential quality and thus potential safety hazards before they fully mature."

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun, who held a three-hour meeting with Whitaker on Thursday, is set to leave the company by the end of the year as part of a broader management shake-up announced in the wake of the Alaska Airlines incident, but Boeing has not yet named a replacement.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle)