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Boeing hasn’t provided documentation about panel that blew out in midair: NTSB chair

Boeing has not turned over documentation related to the production and installation of the door plug that blew out midair aboard an Alaska Airlines flight in January, according to the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“Boeing has not provided us with the documents and information that we have requested numerous times over the past few months,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said Wednesday while testifying in front of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Specifically with respect to opening, closing and removal of the door and the team that does that work at the Renton facility.”

While the agency has gone through emails, texts and pictures to get an idea of when the work on the door panel occurred, Homendy said the agency has not received the names or had interviews with the staff involved with the repairs.

“But we still … there is one team — one team that deals with the doors — of 25 people. Why we don’t have those names today, two months later, is really disappointing,” Homendy said, adding later, “It’s absurd that two months later, we don’t have that.”

Committee Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) shared in Homendy’s disappointment.

“We have an entire economy that depends on people getting this right,” Cantwell said, adding later, “So, it seems like this information is now stymieing your investigation, and it seems that it’s knowable, and that you should at least be able to talk to the individuals there.”

“That is utterly unacceptable,” added Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the ranking member of the committee.

The NTSB launched an investigation shortly after the Jan. 5 midair blowout in which a fuselage panel on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9 blew off and left a gaping hole while 16,000 feet above Oregon. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing.

In its preliminary report released last month, the NTSB said four bolts meant to secure the door plug of a Boeing 737 Max 9 jet were missing after the panel was removed to allow workers to repair damaged rivets last fall. Homendy said Wednesday the repairs were performed by contractors who worked for Boeing’s supplier, Spirit AeroSystems.

A spokesperson for Boeing told The Hill the company has “worked proactively and transparently” to support the investigation.

“Early in the investigation, we provided the NTSB with names of Boeing employees, including door specialists, who we believed would have relevant information,” the spokesperson said. “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.”

While no serious injuries were reported in the incident, the blowout raised questions about the plane manufacturer’s production and safety quality processes. The NTSB is leading the investigation into the blowout, while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is probing overall safety at Boeing.

A FAA report from an expert panel, released last month, found a “disconnect” between the manufacturer’s senior management and other members of the organization when it comes to safety culture.

Homendy claimed Wednesday the NTSB has also not received information from Boeing on its procedures for storing, protecting, and retrieving quality records. Asked if this signals the documents do not or have not ever existed, Homendy said, “They may not. There are two options. Either they exist, and we don’t have them, or they do not exist, which raises two very different questions.”

Boeing told the agency it has a procedure to maintain documents when work is performed, including if a door plug is open, closed or removed, but the NTSB has not been able to verify that claim, Homendy told the committee.

Boeing is facing three lawsuits over the incident, including two separate cases involving a group of passengers and a third from shareholders over “serious safety lapses.” Alaska Airlines is also facing two suits from flight passengers.

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