NTSB Chief Testifies That Boeing Is Stonewalling on 737 Door Plug Blowout

Jennifer Homendy tells lawmakers the company has yet to provide names of the installation team and critical documents; Boeing asserts after hearing NTSB has been updated.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on March 6. [Courtesy: U.S. Senate]

The country’s top transportation safety official stunned Senate lawmakers on Wednesday after testifying that Boeing has yet to provide information crucial to her agency’s investigation into Alaska Airlines’ door plug blowout incident.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy said that despite numerous requests, NTSB has not received the names of 25 people working at the company’s Renton, Washington, facility responsible for opening, closing, and removing the door plug involved in the January 5 event or documentation supporting their work.

“Wow,” responded the committee’s ranking member, Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who asked for the update. “Are you telling us that even two months later you still do not know who actually opened the door plug?”

“That’s correct—and it’s not for lack of trying,” Homendy said, pointing out that it’s not unusual when critical information is not provided immediately after an investigation.

“But for this one, we know for a fact that there is a team that deals with the doors in Renton. The manager has been out on medical leave, so we’ve not been able to interview that individual. We’ve asked for the names of the other 25 people and have not received the names. We’ve asked for the records with respect to what occurred. We asked what shift did it occur on. It’s absurd that two months later we don’t have that.”

When asked by committee chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) whether Boeing has a policy of maintaining documents on work such as installing or removing doors and door plugs, Homendy said the NTSB has not been able to verify that with Boeing.

“And without that information, that raises concerns about quality assurance, quality management, and safety management systems within Boeing,” Homendy said.

Said Cantwell: “It’s beyond disappointing. We have an entire economy that depends on people getting this right, and it seems like this…is stymying your investigation.”

Shortly after the hearing ended, Boeing responded to FLYING’s request for comment with a statement asserting that the company “early in the investigation” provided NTSB with names of employees, including door specialists, that it believed had relevant information.

“We have now provided the full list of individuals on the 737 door team, in response to a recent request. With respect to documentation, if the door plug removal was undocumented there would be no documentation to share. We will continue to cooperate fully and transparently with the NTSB’s investigation.”

Spirit AeroSystems Called Out

Homendy also testified to transparency problems with Spirit AeroSystems, the Wichita, Kansas-based manufacturer of fuselages for the Boeing 737. Spirit has also been part of the investigation.

Referring to individuals that NTSB believed were employed by Spirit, “we were just informed last week that they’re actually not Spirit employees, they’re contractors,” she told the committee. “All three people work for three different entities.”

NTSB was not informed of that by Spirit. “That information was told to us through the individuals being interviewed that contacted us directly. We have engaged our attorney on this matter, just so that you’re aware,” she said.

Spirit representative Joe Buccino told FLYING that, as a party to the NTSB investigation, “we are unable to comment on any matters associated with the investigation. We are coordinating with the NTSB to address the chair’s comments regarding this matter.”

Cruz, who called the lack of response from Boeing “utterly unacceptable,” asked Homendy to inform the committee in writing whether or not the aerospace giant provides the information requested by NTSB by March 13.

“This investigation needs to get to the bottom of what occurred, and what caused the accident,” Cruz said.

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of transportation. He has covered rail, trucking, maritime, and aviation since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable magazine. He graduated from Florida State University, majoring in English and business.

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