$10 Billion Suit Claims Boeing Produced 'Defective' Aircraft
The late 1980s were flush years for the Boeing Company. Airlines were hungry for the company's renowned products. So hungry, in fact, that Boeing had to add thousands of new workers and ramp up production to push enough new airplanes out of its factories.Skip to next paragraph
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But now a former Boeing worker says that this buildup came with a high price. The world's largest aircraft manufacturer has knowingly cranked out flawed airplanes to meet "sacred" production schedules, charges former Boeing employee Timothy Kerr in a whistleblower lawsuit.
He says company inspectors downplayed faults such as misinstalled cables, badly drilled holes, and overtightened bolts - all to keep planes rolling out the door. Among other things, the complaint alleges that Boeing:
* Sacrificed quality control to maintain its ramped-up production schedule.
* Encouraged inspectors and engineers to falsely certify parts and workmanship as airworthy.
* Knew that workers on the plant floor sabotaged - or at least tried to sabotage - planes.
His bottom line: These and other defects may endanger the lives of thousands of today's air travelers, including members of the US military.
"Kerr personally experienced and/or observed and/or was made aware of hundreds of occasions ... where a significant aircraft primary structural defect or failure existed ... and [was] knowingly overlooked by Boeing inspectors...," states his complaint.
Mr. Kerr's charges are laid out in sealed court documents filed 19 months ago in federal court in California. Kerr, who helped build 767s at Boeing from 1986 to 1993, has sued the company for $10 billion on behalf of the US government, which must decide whether to join the suit (see Informers Act, Page 11).
His general assertions cover a range of Boeing models, including 747s, 757s, 767s, military AWACS, and even Air Force One.
But it's the specifics that may constitute the core of Kerr's case. His many note-card references to the problems he saw or heard about on individual aircraft, filed with his complaint, provide narrow, checkable allegations whose truth - or falsity - could well determine the future of the suit.
Kerr and his lawyer, as well as government agencies assigned to investigate the charges, are not permitted to discuss the case because it is under seal. Boeing, too, has declined to comment on the substance of the allegations. Nor will it reveal what its internal records - a database of all customer-reported problems - show about any of the aircraft.
The Monitor's own effort to track the safety records of 47 of the dozens of 767s named in the court documents yielded mixed results: None has been involved in a crash, but some have experienced problems - such as emergency landings stemming from mechanical difficulties.
Indeed, a comparison of the court documents with US incident reports shows a few of these planes may have had problems with parts that Kerr alleges were defective or improperly installed.
Without a firsthand examination of these aircraft, experts say, it's difficult to determine the seriousness of the allegations.
"[Problems cited in the documents] are not things you normally see go out," says Amedeo Misci, a Massachusetts-based airplane engineer and mechanic who has worked in the field for 30 years. "Some are not of major consequence; some could cause very serious problems."
For its part, Boeing sticks by the quality of its aircraft. "We are proud of our commitment to building high-quality, reliable, safe airplanes," the company said in a written statement.
It is unclear how aggressively the government is investigating Kerr's charges - or how close it is to making a decision about whether to join the suit.