New Boeing whistleblower claims he was pressured to hide plane defects – days after death of second insider

A former quality manager for Spirit AeroSystems, Boeing’s largest supplier, and which builds much of the 737 Max aircraft, has claimed that he was pressured to play down any defects he found when inspecting fuselages on the plane.

Santiago Paredes has gone on record as Boeing’s latest whistleblower, speaking days after another whistleblower and employee of Spirit AeroSystems unexpectedly died from a fast-moving infection.

Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing have both come under scrutiny after an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9’s door plug blew off in mid-air in January. That caused the grounding of all 171 MAX 9 jets by the FAA and instigated an investigation.

Speaking to CBS and the BBC in an interview, Mr Paredes said he worked on the end of the production line at Spirit AeroSystems for around a decade in Kansas, doing final inspections on 737 fuselages before these were shipped off to Boeing.

He claimed that he was used to finding “anywhere from 50 to 100, 200” defects on fuselages that were due to be sent to Boeing.

“I was finding a lot of missing fasteners, a lot of bent parts, sometimes even missing parts,” Mr Paredes, who left the company in 2022, said.

“They just wanted the product shipped out,” he claimed. “They weren’t focused on the consequences of shipping bad fuselages. They were just focused on meeting the quotas, meeting the schedule, meeting the budget … If the numbers looked good, the state of the fuselages didn’t really matter.”

The former quality manager claimed that he felt under pressure from managers to keep his reports of defects to a minimum, and was even given the nickname “Showstopper” for slowing down the production and delivery process when he wrote reports of defects that needed repairs.

He claims that they “always said they didn’t have time to fix the mistakes” and needed to get the planes out.

Santiago Paredes, a former employee of Spirit AeroSystems, has spoken up about the inspection process of the 737 Max (CBS/BBC)
Santiago Paredes, a former employee of Spirit AeroSystems, has spoken up about the inspection process of the 737 Max (CBS/BBC)

“They always made a fuss about why I was finding it, why I was looking at it,” he said.

A Boeing spokesperson told CBS that the company has long had a team that finds and fixes defects in fuselages built by Spirit AeroSystems while Boeing is assembling the planes.

A spokesperson added to The Independent that since the beginning of March, Boeing engineers have been inspecting each Spirit fuselage at the Kansas factory before it gets shipped to Boeing, which has reduced non-conformances by 80 per cent.

Mr Paredes said that, eventually, Spirit bosses asked him to speed up his inspections by being less specific over the issues he was finding. He said that when he expressed his opposition to this, he was demoted and moved to a different part of the factory.

“I felt I was being threatened, and I felt I was being retaliated against for raising concerns,” he said.

Mr Paredes said that upon being moved, he filed an ethics complaint with human resources. He said he also wrote to Spirit AeroSystem’s then chief executive to say that he had “lost faith” and that this was his “last cry for help”.

He was able to regain his original leadership position but said that he left the company soon afterwards.

The former employee even went as far as saying that after working at Spirit, he “almost grew a fear of flying”.

Spirit told the BBC that it “strongly disagree[d]” with the allegations and is “vigorously defending against his claims”.

Many of Mr Paredes’ allegations are included in a testimony in a shareholder lawsuit against the company. He is referred to in the documents as “Former Employee 1”.

Mr Paredes is speaking up shortly after Joshua Dean, who worked as a quality auditor at Spirit AeroSystems, died in hospital following the onset of a fast-progressing infection.

Another whistleblower, John Barnett, a quality control engineer at Boeing for 32 years, was found dead at a hotel in March, reportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Dean and Barnett, along with two other people, came forward alleging that corner-cutting in the manufacturing process of the MAX 9 was causing safety risks.

In a statement to The Independent, Spirit spokesperson Joe Buccino said that they “firmly believe the plaintiffs’ claims in the amended complaint are unfounded” but “cannot comment on specific allegations due to the ongoing litigation. We remain committed to addressing concerns and continuously improving workplace safety standards.”

"We take all employee concerns about quality, safety, work practices, and products very seriously,” Mr Buccino added. “Our employees' well-being and the quality of our work are both top priorities for us. To this end, we have recently enhanced our reporting system with the Quality 360 program, which includes QR codes and a streamlined format to make it easier for employees to submit anonymous complaints. We encourage all Spirit employees with concerns to come forward, safe in knowing they will be protected.”

Boeing also announced on the 1 March that they entered into discussions to acquire Spirit AeroSystems.

“We believe that the reintegration of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems’ manufacturing operations would further strengthen aviation safety, improve quality and serve the interests of our customers, employees, and shareholders,” the company said in part.

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