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Boeing To Audit Quality Controls

November 30, 1999

SEATTLE (AP) _ A string of problems with aircraft manufactured by Boeing Co. has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to launch an inspection of the company’s production and quality-control systems.

Boeing said Monday it will conduct a separate, simultaneous review.

The moves announced Monday by the company and the agency come a month after the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, a Boeing 767, but results from other incidents, including:

_An airline telling Boeing that two of 16 bolts holding the vertical stabilizer onto the tail of a 767 were not sufficiently tightened.

_Assembly line mechanics at Boeing’s Everett plant, where 747s, 767s and 777s are built, reporting that fuel tank repairs were being made after the tanks had been inspected and that debris such as sealant tubes and rivet guns were occasionally left behind.

_An adhesive being improperly applied to a condensation barrier that keeps moisture from dripping onto cockpit electronics. The drip shields also did not meet flammability standards, prompting Boeing to briefly halt delivery of 50 airplanes while the part was replaced.

_The discovery of adhesive in some air ducts used in airplane cabins, requiring that some ductwork be brought up to FAA standards.

None of the problems posed a direct safety hazard and no accidents resulted. But they came in the shadow of the mysterious EgyptAir crash, in which all 217 people aboard died when the plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off Massachusetts’ Nantucket Island on Oct. 31.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said it found no mechanical cause for that crash, and investigators suspect that a relief pilot left alone in the cockpit may have intentionally crashed the plane.

Some Egyptian authorities suspect a bomb, while others have noted that the plane that crashed came off the Boeing assembly line immediately before another Boeing 767 that crashed in Thailand in 1991.

``We had a very tragic accident, followed by two or three other things that hit almost simultaneously,″ said Liz Otis, vice president of quality at Boeing Commercial Airplane Group. ``People, perceptions being what they will, draw conclusions even though they are totally unrelated.″

The FAA review will begin Dec. 2 and continue through February at the company’s three manufacturing plants in Seattle, Everett and Renton, Wash.

The agency will be studying everything from aircraft engineering to parts receiving and the manufacturing process, including how engineering changes are incorporated.

Boeing will focus on its quality-control procedures.

``In essence, we are going to be checking that the design is appropriately reflected in manufacturing planning ... so that the resulting product meets its design specifications,″ said Beth Erickson, head of aircraft certification for the FAA.

She described the recent problems as ``slips in different areas of the production system,″ adding: ``The inspections will help us understand the root causes better and, more importantly, they will help us understand if the issues are more systemic in nature.″

Erickson said that fixes already made to the assembly line have corrected the recent problems.

Commercial aircraft are among the most regulated of products.

In the older, classic version of the Boeing 737, which just went out of production, there were 357,000 parts held together by 600,000 bolts and rivets.

The government, mostly through the FAA, must approve an airplane’s design, manufacture, inspections, testing and certification, along with its materials and parts and the way they are used.

Boeing periodically conducts internal audits of its quality controls, and the FAA has workers within Boeing plants to check that airplanes are being built correctly.

In addition, every two years FAA specialists conduct a major evaluation of how well Boeing’s quality assurance systems are working.

The most recent major inspection occurred in May 1998 in Renton, where Boeing builds its single-aisle models like the 737 and 757. The other plants are due for their inspections early next year.

Otis said that overall, Boeing’s existing quality programs work well.

``It’s a foundational, core element that the integrity of our quality system is to ensure safe products,″ she said. ``We couldn’t be in business without thinking that way.″


EDITOR’S NOTE _ Associated Press Writer Glen Johnson contributed to this report.

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