THE EGYPTAIR 767 that crashed into the Atlantic early Sunday morning killing 217 and a 767 that crashed eight years ago were produced back-to-back in


Time bombs in the sky?

Boeing 767s flew with flaws, claim whistle-blowers.

THE EGYPTAIR 767 that crashed into the Atlantic early Sunday morning killing 217 and a 767 that crashed eight years ago were produced back-to-back in the same year that, according to two company whistle-blowers, Boeing workers were pressured to falsely certify safety inspections.

In a new legal complaint, the former Boeing inspectors claim that 767s built in 1989 were produced in part by a faulty assembly mechanism affecting their fuselage structure and that workers surreptitiously shifted one 767 black box—the flight controller and recorder—from certified 767s to uncertified 767s in order to pass the ramped-up inspection process that year. The planes eventually flew off with uncertified controller boxes, they say.

The whistle-blowers' new claim was filed in September. But their attorney, Adam Berger of Schroeter Goldmark & Bender in Seattle, said Monday, "Obviously, when I looked at the morning paper I had the same concerns" that the EgyptAir crash and the 1991 Lauda Air 767 crash were linked to his clients' claims of past production problems. "They were produced during the same time frame. But for now I can't comment beyond what's in the court record." He planned to check the whistle-blowers' detailed records for production links between the two jets, he said.

Boeing, which has failed in its bid to have the whistle-blowers' claims dismissed, fiercely denies the accusations and points out all its planes must pass at least three flight-certification tests—Boeing's, the customer's, and the FAA's. The fact that the crashed EgyptAir jet was produced in 1989 immediately ahead of a 767 that also crashed is pure coincidence, the company says.

Former Boeing line inspector George D. Wynalda Jr. and ex-flight-control rigger Timothy Kerr have filed a $5 billion false claims act lawsuit against Boeing on their own and the United States' behalf. In a new 106-page amended complaint in US District Court in Seattle, they also claim Boeing's conduct violated federal RICO (racketeering) statutes as a criminal enterprise.

Both whistle-blowers say their jobs and lives were threatened when they attempted to follow stricter safety procedures. Wynalda says when he rejected numerous corroded assembly parts, he found them the next morning—"enough to fill a half-ton pickup"—piled on his desk. A quality assurance inspector told Wynalda, he claims, that if he didn't approve the corroded assembly cores, the inspector would "put three rounds into your chest and kill you, you son of a bitch."

Wynalda and Kerr originally filed separate lawsuits under seal in 1996 and 1997, unaware of each other's similar allegations. The suits have now been opened and combined, alleging Boeing sacrificed safety and manufacturing quality for speedier production lines starting in the late 1970s. Among the allegedly flawed jets are two copies of the presidential jet, Air Force One, which has apparently since been reengineered due to those manufacturing concerns, the new complaint alleges.

Boeing 767 models such as the crashed EgyptAir jet and the Lauda Air jet that crashed in Thailand killing 223 were produced at a time, the whistle-blowers' suit claims, Boeing's hurried-up flight certification system was creating "potential time bombs" in the sky.

The new complaint details frequent "abuse" of Boeing's Red Tag system—in essence, allowing a nonstandard part to pass muster—to keep Boeing's production lines moving in the late 1970s through the 1990s. Some of the same Red Tags have been used to approve nonstandard parts for 20 years, the whistle-blowers say. There was also a "Best Fit" policy that led to making noncomplying parts fit by using hammers, pry bars, and other forces.

Both 747s and 767s built during that period were in part constructed with a floor assembly jig (FAJ) that was allegedly obsolete, nonconforming, and noncalibrated, "particularly the 767 FAJ," the two claim. The faulty rig was used to install 747 and 767 fuselage panels that had to be forced into place, resulting "in improper alignment of major sections of the fuselage," according to the lawsuit.

In June, 1989, the two say, Boeing was so short of black boxes for 767s rolling off the production line that "workers began to cannibalize black boxes from a completed aircraft and install the same black box on another, yet to be inspected, airplane. Once the job was 'sold' [approved], the same box was removed and kept moving to other airplanes." Planes were "delivered and went for their maiden flights with numerous flight control computers (black boxes) that had never received any verification that they worked with that particular airplane."

Boeing, however, emphasizes there's no direct proof that any of its aircraft have had flight problems due to the alleged practices. Though Boeing workers have previously told Seattle Weekly of design and production flaws in older Boeing planes, none expressed serious reservations about airworthiness. Boeing will not comment directly on the whistle-blowers' claims, but former Boeing president Ron Woodard stated, "It is 100 percent certain that we would not, nor would the FAA, ever allow an airplane that is anything but absolutely safe leave our factory."

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