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'Fly something else': Former Boeing manager refuses to fly on the 787 Dreamliner
In a recent interview, a former Boeing quality manager cited numerous safety concerns in the 787 Dreamliner.
- John Barnett worked as a quality manager at Boeing for three decades, but recently left the company due, in part, to his concerns over issues in the production of the 787 Dreamliner.
- In a recent interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, Barnett said he would "change flights before I would fly a 787. I've told my family — please don't fly a 787."
- The allegations follow up two 737 crashes that occurred earlier in 2019, calling into question the airline company's dedication to safety standards.
The past few years have not been good for Boeing. First, in October of 2018, a 737 Max crashed just after take-off from Jakarta, killing 189 people. Then again, in March, another Max flight crashed after take-off in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing 157 people. Ensuing reviews revealed that the Boeing failed to adequately train its pilots on a new system responsible for the crash, refused to install safety systems that could have mitigated the crashes, and even pushed for laws that would cut back on oversight.
Now, a former quality manager for Boeing explained in a recent interview with Corporate Crime Reporter why these issues aren't limited to just the 737, and why he refuses to fly on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner.
Lowered safety standards
John Barnett had been a quality manager for Boeing for three decades, work which he enjoyed until he was transferred to Boeing's plant in Charleston, South Carolina, where the 787 is manufactured. Soon after his arrival in 2010, a new leadership team whose previous experience centered on Boeing's military projects began overseeing work on the commercial airliner at the plant.
"They started pressuring us to not document defects," said Barnett, "to work outside the procedures, to allow defective material to be installed without being corrected. They started bypassing procedures and not maintaining configurement control of airplanes, not maintaining control of non-conforming parts — they just wanted to get the planes pushed out the door and make the cash register ring."
At first, Barnett claims, these lapses started out as administrative issues, such as encouraging workers to improperly fill out paperwork. "Over time it got worse and worse," he said. They began to ignore defective parts installed on the planes and basic issues related to aircraft safety.
For example, one audit uncovered that approximately 25 percent of oxygen masks didn't work. Defective parts became lost in the system, only to be later discovered installed on flying aircraft. Barnett particularly recalls several defective bulkheads being installed without having been repaired.
Another major issue were the metal slivers. When securing the plane's floorboard with titanium fasteners, 3-inch-long slivers of razor-sharp metal would fall down into the compartment where the aircraft's sensitive electronic equipment lies.
"That surface below the floor board is where all of your flight control wires are, that's where all of your electronic equipment is," said Barnett. "It controls systems on the airplane, it controls the power of the airplane. All of your electronic equipment is down where all of these metal slivers are falling." Even at the Charleston plant, Barnett described how these slivers would cause electrical shorts and start fires. As the planes vibrate, these metal slivers eventually work their way into the wire bundles and connectors with the potential to cause these issues during flight.
I want the people to know what they are riding on.
Barnett filed complaints with multiple members of the Boeing team, which he asserts resulted in his reassignment to a stand-alone department that isolated him from other quality managers. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did come in and do an audit, substantiating Barnett's claims. As a result of this, the FAA told Boeing that no more planes could be delivered that contained those metal slivers. However, Boeing had determined that the metal slivers were not a safety issue on the planes they had already delivered, and so the customers did not need to be informed. "And at the time," said Barnett, "I think we were up around 800 airplanes that had been delivered. Every 787 out there has these slivers out there."
Without seeing significant improvements, Barnett filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in January 2017. As of this writing, OSHA is still investigating and has not made any determinations.
Barnett stressed that he was a fan of Boeing's planes overall, asserting that the previous planes he worked on were built to be safe and airworthy. "But as far as the 787, I would change flights before I would fly a 787. I've told my family — please don't fly a 787. Fly something else. Try to get a different ticket. I want the people to know what they are riding on."
Lowering the regulatory bar
Wreckage from the March 2019 crash of a 737 Max airliner outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Xinhua/ via Getty Images
These allegations add on to previous criticisms that the airline company is putting profit ahead of safety as a means of staying ahead of its major competitor, Airbus. Together, they effectively form a duopoly in the airline industry, and staying ahead of its competitor in the already challenging industry has pushed Boeing to cut corners. Critics assert that the company intentionally skipped training pilots in new systems and procedures, a decision which may have led to the two 737 crashes earlier in 2019 and 2018.
Compounding these issues, the company has successfully lobbied for reduced oversight as well. The most recent manifestation of this was Boeing's lobbying efforts toward the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, a bill that the FAA claimed would "not be in the best interest of safety." A former FAA attorney claimed that "it set the FAA up for being totally deferential to the industry." Coupled with Barnett's claims that the company has been ignoring quality concerns in the 787 Dreamliner and the 737's recent crashes, this hamstrung regulatory environment does not inspire confidence.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
So far, 30 student teams have entered the Indy Autonomous Challenge, scheduled for October 2021.
- The Indy Autonomous Challenge will task student teams with developing self-driving software for race cars.
- The competition requires cars to complete 20 laps within 25 minutes, meaning cars would need to average about 110 mph.
- The organizers say they hope to advance the field of driverless cars and "inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>Completing the race in 25 minutes means the cars will need to average about 110 miles per hour. So, while the race may end up being a bit slower than a typical Indy 500 competition, in which winners average speeds of over 160 mph, it's still set to be the fastest autonomous race featuring full-size cars.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is no human redundancy there," Matt Peak, managing director for Energy Systems Network, a nonprofit that develops technology for the automation and energy sectors, told the <a href="https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2020/06/01/Indy-Autonomous-Challenge-Indy-500-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway-Ansys-Aptiv-self-driving-cars/stories/202005280137" target="_blank">Pittsburgh Post-Gazette</a>. "Either your car makes this happen or smash into the wall you go."</p>
Illustration of the Indy Autonomous Challenge
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>The Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://www.indyautonomouschallenge.com/rules" target="_blank">describes</a> itself as a "past-the-post" competition, which "refers to a binary, objective, measurable performance rather than a subjective evaluation, judgement, or recognition."</p><p>This competition design was inspired by the 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge, which tasked teams with developing driverless cars and sending them along a 150-mile route in Southern California for a chance to win $1 million. But that prize went unclaimed, because within a few hours after starting, all the vehicles had suffered some kind of critical failure.</p>
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indy Autonomous Challenge<p>One factor that could prevent a similar outcome in the upcoming race is the ability to test-run cars on a virtual racetrack. The simulation software company Ansys Inc. has already developed a model of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on which teams will test their algorithms as part of a series of qualifying rounds.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We can create, with physics, multiple real-life scenarios that are reflective of the real world," Ansys President Ajei Gopal told <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/autonomous-vehicles-to-race-at-indianapolis-motor-speedway-11595237401?mod=e2tw" target="_blank">The Wall Street Journal</a>. "We can use that to train the AI, so it starts to come up to speed."</p><p>Still, the race could reveal that self-driving cars aren't quite ready to race at speeds of over 110 mph. After all, regular self-driving cars already face enough logistical and technical roadblocks, including <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53349313#:~:text=Tesla%20will%20be%20able%20to,no%20driver%20input%2C%20he%20said." target="_blank">crumbling infrastructure, communication issues</a> and the <a href="https://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/would-you-ride-in-a-car-thats-programmed-to-kill-you" target="_self">fateful moral decisions driverless cars will have to make in split seconds</a>.</p>But the Indy Autonomous Challenge <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5da73021d0636f4ec706fa0a/t/5dc0680c41954d4ef41ec2b2/1572890638793/Indy+Autonomous+Challenge+Ruleset+-+v5NOV2019+%282%29.pdf" target="_blank">says</a> its main goal is to advance the industry, by challenging "students around the world to imagine, invent, and prove a new generation of automated vehicle (AV) software and inspire the next generation of STEM talent."
A new Harvard study finds that the language you use affects patient outcome.
- A study at Harvard's McLean Hospital claims that using the language of chemical imbalances worsens patient outcomes.
- Though psychiatry has largely abandoned DSM categories, professor Joseph E Davis writes that the field continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system."
- Chemical explanations of mental health appear to benefit pharmaceutical companies far more than patients.
Challenging the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Mental Disorders: Robert Whitaker, Journalist<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="41699c8c2cb2aee9271a36646e0bee7d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-8BDC7i8Yyw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>This is a far cry from Howard Rusk's 1947 NY Times editorial calling for mental healt</p><p>h disorders to be treated similarly to physical disease (such as diabetes and cancer). This mindset—not attributable to Rusk alone; he was merely relaying the psychiatric currency of the time—has dominated the field for decades: mental anguish is a genetic and/or chemical-deficiency disorder that must be treated pharmacologically.</p><p>Even as psychiatry untethered from DSM categories, the field still used chemistry to validate its existence. Psychotherapy, arguably the most efficient means for managing much of our anxiety and depression, is time- and labor-intensive. Counseling requires an empathetic and wizened ear to guide the patient to do the work. Ingesting a pill to do that work for you is more seductive, and easier. As Davis writes, even though the industry abandoned the DSM, it continues to strive for a "brain-based diagnostic system." </p><p>That language has infiltrated public consciousness. The team at McLean surveyed 279 patients seeking acute treatment for depression. As they note, the causes of psychological distress have constantly shifted over the millennia: humoral imbalance in the ancient world; spiritual possession in medieval times; early childhood experiences around the time of Freud; maladaptive thought patterns dominant in the latter half of last century. While the team found that psychosocial explanations remain popular, biogenetic explanations (such as the chemical imbalance theory) are becoming more prominent. </p><p>Interestingly, the 80 people Davis interviewed for his book predominantly relied on biogenetic explanations. Instead of doctors diagnosing patients, as you might expect, they increasingly serve to confirm what patients come in suspecting. Patients arrive at medical offices confident in their self-diagnoses. They believe a pill is the best course of treatment, largely because they saw an advertisement or listened to a friend. Doctors too often oblige without further curiosity as to the reasons for their distress. </p>
Image: Illustration Forest / Shutterstock<p>While medicalizing mental health softens the stigma of depression—if a disorder is inheritable, it was never really your fault—it also disempowers the patient. The team at McLean writes,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions."</p><p>Davis points out the language used by direct-to-consumer advertising prevalent in America. Doctors, media, and advertising agencies converge around common messages, such as everyday blues is a "real medical condition," everyone is susceptible to clinical depression, and drugs correct underlying somatic conditions that you never consciously control. He continues,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Your inner life and evaluative stance are of marginal, if any, relevance; counseling or psychotherapy aimed at self-insight would serve little purpose." </p><p>The McLean team discovered a similar phenomenon: patients expect little from psychotherapy and a lot from pills. When depression is treated as the result of an internal and immutable essence instead of environmental conditions, behavioral changes are not expected to make much difference. Chemistry rules the popular imagination.</p>