Boeing Whistleblower Says He Faced Pressure to Cover Up Defects

A one-time quality inspector who worked at the largest parts supplier for Boeing said this week that he received pressure to hide various defects that were found in parts for the airline.

Those comments that were made by whistleblower Santiago Paredes only increased scrutiny about the quality control efforts the company has for its 737 planes.

Paredes worked for Spirit AeroSystems for more than 10 years as an inspector. That company is the largest parts manufacturer for Boeing.

This week, he spoke with the BBC and CBS News, saying he wasn’t surprised when missing bolts on a door led to the whole door on a 737 Max jet blowing out midair during a flight that Alaska Airlines was taking in January.

As he said:

“Why’d that happen? Because Spirit let go of a defect that they overlooked because of the pressure that they put on the inspectors. If the culture was good, those issues would be addressed. But, the culture is not good.”

Paredes said that, on a regular basis, he’d observe hundreds of defects in parts. Some of his supervisors even dubbed him the “showstopper” because of how often he slowed down production because of what he found during inspections.

As he explained:

“They always made a fuss about why I was finding it, why I was looking at it. They just wanted the product shipped out. They weren’t focused on the consequences of shipping bad fuselages.

“They were just focused on meeting the quotas, meeting the schedule, meeting the budget. … If the numbers looked good, the state of the fuselages didn’t really matter.”

Following the incident that happened on Alaska Airlines, all 737 Max planes that were similar to the one in the air were grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA then conducted a full investigation about the quality and control infrastructure for Boeing’s parts.

Investigators ultimately determined that the safety culture at the company was “inadequate and confusing.”

Paredes also added that management at Spirit changed the protocol for defects so that fewer reports would be made. After he complained about the change, he was demoted to a lower position.

As he said:

“I felt I was being threatened, and I felt I was being retaliated against for raising concerns.”

After Paredes filed an official complaint, he was reinstated to a leadership role at the company. But, he ultimately left the company altogether not long after that.

Because of his experience at a subsidiary of Boeing, Paredes said he’s hesitant to fly.

He said:

“I’d never met a lot of people who were scared of flying until I worked at Spirit. And then, being at Spirit, I met a lot of people who were afraid of flying — because they saw how they were building the fuselages.”

Not surprisingly, Spirit has denied all of the allegations that Paredes has made. A spokesperson for the company said to CBS News:

“We are vigorously defending against his claims.”