Whistleblower fears ‘faulty’ oxygen systems on Boeing 787s

Boeing denies accusations that up to 25% of oxygen systems could be faulty and insists its planes are built to the highest levels of safety
Boeing, Boeing 787, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, 787 Dreamliner, 737 MAX

A former Boeing employee who helped to build 787 Dreamliners is deeply concerned about the safety of the jet and claims that the oxygen system on some of the aircraft may not work properly in the event of an emergency.

According to a whistleblower in a BBC report, up to 25% of oxygen systems on 787s could be faulty, potentially leaving passengers without oxygen in the event of sudden cabin decompression.

Boeing has denied the claims made by former quality control engineer John Barnett and insists that its planes are built to the highest safety levels.

Barnett told the BBC that while working as a quality manager at the Boeing factory in North Charleston, South Carolina, the assembly process was rushed and safety compromised so that aircraft could be built in time. Boeing rejects the accusation.

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In the report, Barnett said he discovered issues with the 787’s oxygen systems in 2016 while decommissioning units that had undergone ‘minor cosmetic damage’. He reportedly found that some systems were not working as they should or discharging when they ought to.

In light of his discovery, Barnett arranged an internal test at Boeing using undamaged oxygen systems to see how the ‘straight-out-of-stock’ systems would deploy on-board an aircraft.

Out of the 300 oxygen systems tested at Boeing’s research and development unit, 75 of them – a quarter – did not properly deploy.

Barnett complained to the FAA but it said it was unable to back his claim. However, it told the BBC that in 2017 it “identified some oxygen bottles received from the supplier that were not deploying properly. We removed those bottles from production so that no defective bottles were placed on airplanes, and we addressed the matter with our supplier”.

It added however that “every passenger oxygen system installed on our airplanes is tested multiple times before delivery to ensure it is functioning properly, and must pass those tests to remain on the airplane. The system is also tested at regular intervals once the airplane enters service.”

Barnett said that he remains concerned about what he described as a “cost-cutting” culture at Boeing geared on “meeting schedule”. He said in the report: “Based on my years of experience and past history of plane accidents, I believe it's just a matter of time before something big happens with a 787. I pray that I am wrong.”

Boeing’s manufacturing process has been under pressure since the 737 Max crashes some months ago. An investigation into the tragedies saw lawmakers accuse Boeing of rushing to build planes at the expense of safety because of pressure from investors to compete with Airbus.

Boeing has maintained that it works alongside regulators to ensure aircraft are safe and carries out “extensive” test flights and “rigorous” inspections on its jets.

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