New whistleblower raises concerns about Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner

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The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating new allegations by a longtime Boeing engineer that sections of fuselages on the company’s 787 Dreamliner planes are improperly fastened together and could weaken over time — raising concerns that after years in operation, the aircraft could break apart in midflight.

Sam Salehpour, a Boeing quality engineer, alleged Tuesday that in the push to meet production targets, the company took shortcuts such as failing to follow its own procedures for ensuring pieces of the plane’s fuselages were properly fitted and joined. He also described instances where workers placed “excessive stress” on major airplane joints to make it look like gaps did not exist. This let the company speed up the manufacturing process — but at the risk of reducing the life span of the jetliners, Salehpour said.

After raising concerns, however, Salehpour said he was ignored and faced retaliation, including threats of physical violence from a supervisor. In January, several weeks after the Alaska Airlines accident, he took his concerns to the FAA.

“I love my work at Boeing and the opportunities I’ve been given,” Salehpour said during a briefing with reporters. Asked why he was stepping forward, he responded: “I want Boeing to succeed and prevent crashes from happening.”

“Voluntary reporting without fear of reprisal is a critical component in aviation safety,” the FAA said in its statement. “We strongly encourage everyone in the aviation industry to share information. We thoroughly investigate all reports.”

Boeing has pushed back against Salehpour’s claims, saying it has full confidence in the 787 Dreamliner. It also said that retaliation is strictly prohibited at Boeing.

“These claims about the structural integrity of the 787 are inaccurate and do not represent the comprehensive work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and long-term safety of the aircraft,” the company said in a statement. “The issues raised have been subject to rigorous engineering examination under FAA oversight.”

Boeing also said it had identified concerns about the proper fitting and joining of fuselages in 2020 and temporarily halted delivery of most planes for nearly two years. In August 2022, the FAA approved the fix Boeing developed and allowed the company to resume 787 deliveries and continue production.

Salehpour is scheduled to testify next week at a hearing before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. In a letter sent to Boeing last month, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) requested Boeing’s cooperation in their review of Salehpour’s allegations as well as testimony from Boeing’s chief executive, David Calhoun.

Boeing said it is “cooperating with this inquiry,” adding that it has offered to provide documents, testimony and technical briefings, and is in discussions with the committee regarding next steps.

Salehpour’s allegations are another blow to a company struggling to salvage its reputation in the wake of the January accident in which a portion of a 737 Max jet blew out in midflight. That incident spawned multiple investigations and an independent examination of its culture, with initial results painting a picture of a company that has fallen short of pledges it made to put safety first following fatal crashes involving 737 Max jets in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

Boeing has shaken up its executive ranks in an effort to address criticism. Calhoun recently announced he would step down at the end of the year, while Stan Deal, the executive that ran the company’s commercial airplane division, announced his retirement after decades at Boeing. The chair of the company’s board of directors, Larry Kellner, also announced he would not seek reelection.

Separately, the company is facing a FAA-imposed deadline in May to come up with a plan to address quality control and assurance issues in its manufacturing operations.

Salehpour began his career at Boeing in 2007 as a contractor before being brought on as a full-time employee. As a quality engineer, his job involved monitoring Boeing’s production activities, investigating and analyzing defects, and developing strategies to prevent them from reoccurring, according to his attorney Debra Katz.

But after raising concerns with his supervisors, Salehpour said he was left out of key meetings and eventually involuntarily reassigned to work on the company’s 777 aircraft program. There, he said, he also encountered issues, including instances where workers forced misaligned parts to fit together by force, even jumping on parts to make them fit together.

In a statement, Boeing said Salehpour’s claims were inaccurate.

“We are fully confident in the safety and durability of the 777 family,” the company said.

Boeing added that it has continued to refine and improve the 787 program since it launched 20 years ago, resulting in higher quality with no impact on durability. The company said its comprehensive approach to evaluating improvements to its production process “includes and encourages dissenting viewpoints,” adding that its work has been completed with full transparency and under the oversight of the FAA.”

Lisa Banks, another of Salehpour’s attorneys, acknowledged that Boeing has made some changes to the 787 manufacturing process, but added they are not sufficient.

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