Most of Boeing’s bigger problems — the crashes of two 737 Max airliners and the fleet’s indefinite grounding — have little to do with the North Charleston plant where 787 Dreamliners are built.
It’s notable, however, that federal inspectors have stepped up inspections at the local plant after workers filed safety complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration.
According to a recent FAA memo, first reported by The New York Times, three safety complaints filed by workers at the North Charleston plant have been lodged, and several compliance and enforcement cases remain open involving debris left in planes or misplaced tools.
The results of those inspections are unknown, but the fact that the FAA took those complaints seriously and responded to them is encouraging. (Executives say there is nothing unusual about the FAA’s recent activity at the plant, according to The Post and Courier’s David Wren.)
Of course, local Boeing workers and executives need to speak up if they see something wrong. But they also must remain focused on doing an excellent job and putting quality ahead of quantity. It’s essential to Boeing’s continued presence and success in South Carolina.
It’s unfortunate that rumblings about harried workers and shoddy workmanship are reminders of an ongoing union struggle. Boeing is continuing to appeal a National Labor Relations Board ruling that allowed flight-line workers to vote 104-65 to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers after two earlier votes failed.
The union also is urging the FAA to review Boeing’s plans to introduce more automation in manufacturing that would help identify flaws and, quite possibly, eliminate jobs.
Despite the complaints, Boeing still requires second-party inspection of processes and parts deemed critical for flight safety. But the FAA might need to assert more direct manufacturing safety oversight rather than relying so heavily on the aviation industry to police itself.
Increased scrutiny should help improve quality and reduce mistakes in a manufacturing sector with very little tolerance for errors.
Some local Boeing workers told The Post and Courier they were unhappy with the company’s “lean manufacturing” strategy in which production is speeded up in part by letting in-house teams sign off on their own work, something they say has been causing an increase in mistakes. Boeing also has been eliminating quality inspectors companywide, with about 100 jobs at risk in North Charleston.
Boeing’s North Charleston plant is the biggest private employer in the county with nearly 7,000 workers.
The company and its workforce are crucial to the local economy. It’s important that these concerns are addressed and the plant and its workers continue their key role in the region’s success story.