NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — When Boeing broke ground on it […]

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — When Boeing broke ground on its new factory near Charleston in 2009, the plant was trumpeted as a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub, building one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. But in the decade since, the factory, which makes the 787 Dreamliner, has been plagued by shoddy production and weak oversight that have threatened to compromise safety.


A New York Times review of hundreds of pages of internal emails, corporate documents and federal records, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, reveals a culture that often valued production speed over quality. Facing long manufacturing delays, Boeing pushed its work force to quickly turn out Dreamliners, at times ignoring issues raised by employees.


Complaints about the frenzied pace echo broader concerns about the company in the wake of two deadly crashes involving another jet, the 737 Max. Boeing is now facing questions about whether the race to get the Max done, and catch up to its rival Airbus, led it to miss safety risks in the design, like an anti-stall system that played a role in both crashes.

对这种疯狂速度的抱怨,与外界在另一个型号的波音737 Max客机发生两起致命坠机事故之后对公司更广泛的担忧相呼应。波音现在面临的问题包括,为了推出Max机型、赶上竞争对手空中客车(Airbus),是否导致了公司忽视设计上的安全风险,比如在两起坠机事故中都起了作用的防失速系统。

Safety lapses at the North Charleston plant have drawn the scrutiny of airlines and regulators. Qatar Airways stopped accepting planes from the factory after manufacturing mishaps damaged jets and delayed deliveries. Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes.

北查尔斯顿工厂的安全漏洞已经引起了航空公司和监管机构的密切关注。在生产事故导致飞机受损、交付推迟之后,卡塔尔航空(Qatar Airways)不再接受来自这家工厂的飞机。工人们已向联邦监管机构提交了10起以上的检举和安全投诉,描述了诸如制造缺陷、飞机里留有碎片,以及劝说员工不举报违规行为等问题。还有些人起诉波音,称他们因指出生产中的问题而遭到波音的报复。

Joseph Clayton, a technician at the North Charleston plant, one of two facilities where the Dreamliner is built, said he routinely found debris dangerously close to wiring beneath cockpits.

北查尔斯顿工厂是制造梦想客机的两家工厂之一,该厂的技术员约瑟夫·克莱顿(Joseph Clayton)说,他经常在驾驶舱下方的线路附近发现危险的碎片。

“I’ve told my wife that I never plan to fly on it,” he said. “It’s just a safety issue.”


In an industry where safety is paramount, the collective concerns involving two crucial Boeing planes — the company’s workhorse, the 737 Max, and another crown jewel, the 787 Dreamliner — point to potentially systemic problems. Regulators and lawmakers are taking a deeper look at Boeing’s priorities, and whether profits sometimes trumped safety. The leadership of Boeing, one of the country’s largest exporters, now finds itself in the unfamiliar position of having to defend its practices and motivations.

在一个安全至上的行业,涉及对波音至关重要的两种机型——波音的主力机型737 Max,以及另一颗皇冠上的明珠787梦想客机——的集体担忧,提出了潜在的系统性问题。监管者和立法者正在更深入地审视波音的优先事项,以及利润是否有时比安全更重要。作为美国最大的出口商之一,波音的领导层现在发现自己正处于一种陌生境地,不得不为自己的行为和动机辩护。

“Boeing South Carolina teammates are producing the highest levels of quality in our history,” Kevin McAllister, Boeing’s head of commercial airplanes, said in a statement. “I am proud of our teams’ exceptional commitment to quality and stand behind the work they do each and every day.”

“波音南卡罗来纳团队正在造就我们历史上最高水平的质量,”波音商用飞机部门主管凯文·麦卡利斯特(Kevin McAllister)在一份声明中说。“我为我们的团队对质量的非凡保证感到自豪,我支持他们每天每日所做的工作。”

All factories deal with manufacturing errors, and there is no evidence that the problems in South Carolina have led to any major safety incidents. The Dreamliner has never crashed, although the fleet was briefly grounded after a battery fire. Airlines, too, have confidence in the Dreamliner.


On several planes, John Barnett, a former quality manager who worked at Boeing for nearly three decades and retired in 2017, discovered clusters of metal slivers hanging over the wiring that commands the flight controls. If the sharp metal pieces — produced when fasteners were fitted into nuts — penetrate the wires, he said, it could be “catastrophic.”

在波音工作了近30年、已于2017年退休的前质量经理约翰·巴内特(John Barnett)曾在几架飞机上发现过悬挂在飞行控制系统线路上方的金属薄片串。他说,如果这些锋利的金属碎片——它们是在将紧固件拧进螺母时产生的——穿透电线,那将是“灾难性的”。

Mr. Barnett, who filed a whistle-blower complaint with regulators, said he had repeatedly urged his bosses to remove the shavings. But they refused and moved him to another part of the plant.


A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, Lynn Lunsford, said the agency had inspected several planes certified by Boeing as free of such debris and found those same metal slivers. In certain circumstances, he said, the problem can lead to electrical shorts and cause fires.

美国联邦航空管理局(Federal Aviation Administration,简称FAA)发言人林恩·伦斯福德(Lynn Lunsford)说,FAA曾检查过几架波音认定没有此类碎片的飞机,但发现了同样的金属碎片。他说,在某种情况下,这个问题可能导致电线短路并引发火灾。

Officials believe the shavings may have damaged an in-service airplane on one occasion in 2012, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.


‘It Could Have Locked Up the Gears’


Less than a month after the crash of the second 737 Max jet, Boeing called North Charleston employees to an urgent meeting. The company had a problem: Customers were finding random objects in new planes.

第二架波音737 Max客机坠毁后不到一个月,波音曾将北查尔斯顿的员工召集起来,开了一次紧急会议。公司遇到了一个问题:客户在新飞机上发现了各种各样的东西。

A senior manager implored workers to check more carefully, invoking the crashes. “The company is going through a very difficult time right now,” he said, according to two employees who were present and spoke on the condition of anonymity.


So-called foreign object debris is a common issue in aviation. Employees are supposed to clean the bowels of the aircraft as they work, often with a vacuum, so they don’t accidentally contaminate the planes with shavings, tools, parts or other items.


But debris has remained a persistent problem in South Carolina. In an email this month, Brad Zaback, the head of the 787 program, reminded the North Charleston staff that stray objects left inside planes “can potentially have serious safety consequences when left unchecked.”

但碎片仍然是南卡罗莱纳工厂的一个长期问题。787项目负责人布拉德·扎巴克(Brad Zaback)在本月的一封电子邮件中提醒北查尔斯顿的工人,飞机内的遗留物“如果不加以控制,可能会带来严重的安全后果”。

The issue has cost Boeing at other plants. In March, the Air Force halted deliveries of the KC-46 tanker, built in Everett, Wash., after finding a wrench, bolts and trash inside new planes.


“To say it bluntly, this is unacceptable,” Will Roper, an assistant secretary of the Air Force, told a congressional subcommittee in March. “Our flight lines are spotless. Our depots are spotless, because debris translates into a safety issue.”

“坦率地说,这是不可接受的,”空军助理部长威尔·罗珀(Will Roper)今年3月对国会的一个小组委员会说。“我们的停机坪和维修场都一尘不染。我们的机库一尘不染,因为碎片意味着安全问题。”

Boeing said it was working to address the issue with the Air Force, which resumed deliveries this month.


At the North Charleston plant, the current and former workers describe a losing battle with debris.


“I’ve found tubes of sealant, nuts, stuff from the build process,” said Rich Mester, a former technician who reviewed planes before delivery. Mr. Mester was fired, and a claim was filed on his behalf with the National Labor Relations Board over his termination. “They’re supposed to have been inspected for this stuff, and it still makes it out to us.”

“我在建造过程中发现过盛密封胶的软管、螺母等东西,”曾在交付前检查飞机的技术员里奇·梅斯特(Rich Mester)说。梅斯特已被解雇,一份就他解雇问题的代理申请已提交给了国家劳资关系委员会(National Labor Relations Board)。“他们本应该已检查过这些东西,但我们还是看到了这些东西。”

Employees have found a ladder and a string of lights left inside the tails of planes, near the gears of the horizontal stabilizer. “It could have locked up the gears,” Mr. Mester said.


A Pool of Nonunion Workers


When it was unveiled in 2007, the 787 Dreamliner was Boeing’s most important new plane in a generation. The wide-body jet, with a lightweight carbon fiber fuselage and advanced technology, was a hit with carriers craving fuel savings.


Airlines ordered hundreds of the planes, which cost upward of $200 million each. Spurred by high demand, Boeing set up a new factory.


North Charleston was ideal in many ways. South Carolina has the lowest percentage of union representation in the nation, giving Boeing a potentially less expensive work force.


South Carolina doled out nearly $1 billion in tax incentives, including $33 million to train local workers. Boeing pledged to create 3,800 jobs.


While Boeing has nurtured generations of aerospace professionals in the Seattle area, there was no comparable work force in South Carolina. Instead, managers had to recruit from technical colleges in Tulsa, Okla., and Atlanta.


Managers were also urged to not hire unionized employees from the Boeing factory in Everett, where the Dreamliner is also made, according to two former employees.


“They didn’t want us bringing union employees out to a nonunion area,” said David Kitson, a former quality manager, who oversaw a team responsible for ensuring that planes are safe to fly.

“他们不想让我们把工会员工带到一个非工会地区,”前质量经理戴维·基特森(David Kitson)说,他曾领导一个负责确保飞机安全飞行的小组。

“We struggled with that,” said Mr. Kitson, who retired in 2015. “There wasn’t the qualified labor pool locally.” Another former manager, Michael Storey, confirmed his account.

“我们在这方面遇到了困难,”已于2015年退休的基特森说。“当地没有合格的后备劳动力。”另一位前经理迈克尔·斯托里(Michael Storey)证实了基特森的说法。

The 787 was already running years behind schedule because of manufacturing hiccups and supplier delays. The labor shortages in North Charleston only made it worse.


The initial excitement when the first Dreamliners entered service in late 2011 was short lived. A little more than a year later, the entire fleet was grounded after a battery fire on a Japan Airlines plane.

2011年底,首批梦想客机投入使用时的最初兴奋是短暂的。刚过了一年多一点儿,日本航空(Japan Airlines)的一架飞机就发生了电池起火的问题,导致整个型号的飞机停飞。

Boeing was forced to compensate carriers, hurting profit. All the while, the production delays mounted, and Airbus was close behind with a rival plane, the A350.


In North Charleston, the time crunch had consequences. Hundreds of tools began disappearing, according to complaints filed in 2014 with the F.A.A. by two former managers, Jennifer Jacobsen and David McClaughlin. Some were “found lying around the aircraft,” Ms. Jacobsen said in her complaint.

在北查尔斯顿,时间紧迫产生了后果。据前经理詹妮弗·雅各布森(Jennifer Jacobsen)和戴维·麦克劳弗林(David McClaughlin)在2014年向FAA提交的投诉,数百件工具开始消失。雅各布森在投诉书中说,“在机身的各个部位都找到过”一些工具。

The two managers also said they had been pushed to cover up delays. Managers told employees to install equipment out of order to make it “appear to Boeing executives in Chicago, the aircraft purchasers and Boeing’s shareholders that the work is being performed on schedule, where in fact the aircraft is far behind schedule,” according to their complaints.


The F.A.A. investigated the complaints and didn’t find violations on its visit to the plant in early 2014. But the agency said it had previously found “improper tool control” and the “presence of foreign object debris.”


Both managers left after they were accused of inaccurately approving the time sheets of employees who did not report to them. They both claim they were retaliated against for flagging violations. Through their lawyer, Rob Turkewitz, they declined to comment.

这两名经理都在被指控没有准确地批报并非由他们负责的工人工作时间表后离开了公司。他们都称自己因举报违规做法而遭到报复。他们通过律师罗布·特克维茨(Rob Turkewitz)表示,拒绝对此文予以置评。

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Boeing, said, “We prioritize safety and quality over speed, but all three can be accomplished while still producing one of the safest airplanes flying today.”

波音发言人戈登·约翰德罗(Gordon Johndroe)说,“我们把安全和质量放在速度之上,但在生产如今最安全飞机之一的过程中,这三个目标都能实现。”

Planes were also damaged during manufacturing. A Dreamliner built for American Airlines suffered a flood in the cabin so severe that seats, ceiling panels, carpeting and electronics had to be replaced in a weekslong process.

飞机也曾在制造过程中受损。一架为美国航空(American Airlines)制造的梦想客机的客舱遭受过洪水袭击,工人不得不在一周的时间里更换座椅、天花板、地毯和电子设备。

Defective Parts Disappear


In the interest of meeting deadlines, managers sometimes played down or ignored problems, according to current and former workers.


Mr. Barnett, the former quality manager, who goes by Swampy in a nod to his Louisiana roots, learned in 2016 that a senior manager had pulled a dented hydraulic tube from a scrap bin, he said. He said the tube, part of the central system controlling the plane’s movement, was installed on a Dreamliner.


Mr. Barnett said the senior manager had told him, “Don’t worry about it.” He filed a complaint with human resources, company documents show.


He also reported to management that defective parts had gone missing, raising the prospect that they had been installed in planes. His bosses, he said, told him to finish the paperwork on the missing parts without figuring out where they had gone.


The F.A.A. investigated and found that Boeing had lost some damaged parts. Boeing said that as a precautionary matter, it had sent notices to airlines about the issue. The company said it had also investigated the flawed hydraulic tube and hadn’t substantiated Mr. Barnett’s claims.


“Safety issues are immediately investigated, and changes are made wherever necessary,” said the Boeing spokesman, Mr. Johndroe.


But several former employees said high-level managers pushed internal quality inspectors to stop recording defects.


Cynthia Kitchens, a former quality manager, said her superiors penalized her in performance reviews and berated her on the factory floor after she flagged wire bundles rife with metal shavings and defective metal parts that had been installed on planes.

曾担任质量经理的辛西娅·基钦斯(Cynthia Kitchens)说,她指出了问题之后,比如线路捆上有大量金属削片,有缺陷的金属部件被安装在了飞机上,她的上司在业绩评估中惩罚她,还当着工人的面严厉斥责她。

“It was intimidation,” she said. “Every time I started finding stuff, I was harassed.”


Ms. Kitchens left in 2016 and sued Boeing for age and sex discrimination. The case was dismissed.


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