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Recurring Incidents: What Is Happening at Boeing?

Recurring Incidents: What Is Happening at Boeing?
What's going on at Boeing? Is there still a pilot in the cockpit? Disasters continue to occur on board USA-made aircraft. (Credit: iStock)

What’s going on at Boeing? Is there still a pilot in the cockpit? Disasters continue to occur on board USA-made aircraft. After fatal accidents involving the 737 MAX, now the 777 and 787 are experiencing a series of incidents. Experts point to a failure in quality control.

Article updated on April 8th, 2024 with a new incident: yesterday, a Boeing 737-800 from the American airline Southwest Airlines had to turn back shortly after take off from Denver International Airport as the engine’s cover fell off. The plane, carrying 135 passengers and six crew members was heading to Houston (Texas). It landed safely back at its departure point.

Crashes, malfunctions, doors torn off in mid-flight, the suicide of a former employee… The setbacks have been accumulating in recent years, particularly in recent months for the American aircraft manufacturer. It all started with the 737 MAX model. Today, other models are affected. Boeing’s stock has plummeted by a quarter of its value this year. This represents a reduction of over $40 billion in the company’s market capitalization.

Let’s take a look back at this series of failures and attempt to explain.

1/ Recap of a Series of Incidents

2018-2019: 2 Fatal Crashes involving the 737 MAX

The Boeing 737 Max, the latest addition to the Boeing series, was introduced in 2017. But as early as 2018, troubles began and plunged the American aircraft manufacturer into a deep crisis.

On October 29, 2018, a 737 Max belonging to Lion Air crashed into the sea about ten minutes after taking off from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport bound for the Indonesian island of Bangka. On board were 189 people, including eight crew members. There were no survivors. Experts blamed a sensor failure on the aircraft.

The following year, on March 10, 2019, a Boeing 737 Max 8 belonging to Ethiopian Airlines also crashed ten minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa Airport. There were no survivors among the 157 people on board.

In total, 350 people lost their lives in these two crashes. A few days after the second disaster, the American aviation authorities (FAA) grounded the Boeing 737 Max.

The CEO at the time, Dennis Muilenburg, resigned at the end of 2019. The 737 Max remained grounded until the end of 2020.

2021-2023: Incidents on Various Models

Troubles resumed in 2021, this time on other models manufactured by the aircraft manufacturer.

A Boeing 737-500 carrying 62 people and operated by Sriwijaya Air plummeted 3000 meters. It also crashed into the Java Sea, with no survivors. According to investigators, the crash was due to a series of technical issues and negligence on the part of the pilots.

In 2023, a new incident occurred involving a Boeing 737-800 of American Airlines on a domestic flight (Ohio-Arizona) carrying 173 people. One of the engines caught fire after a bird strike. The pilot turned back. There were no casualties.

January 2024: Door Torn off Mid-Flight, Emergency Landing

On January 5th, a new incident involving a 737 Max of Alaska Airlines occurred. A door opened and detached from the fuselage just 6 minutes after takeoff while the plane was at 5000 meters altitude. On board were 175 people. The incident triggered the deployment of oxygen masks. Some passengers started filming. Their images, which went viral, were alarming. There were no deaths but some passengers were injured.

A few weeks later, an Atlas Air Boeing 747 cargo plane had to make an emergency landing at Miami Airport after an engine failure during takeoff.

February 2024: Malfunctions, Failures

In February, pilots of United Airlines revealed that the rudder pedals of a 737 Max they were in charge of remained stuck upon landing at Newark Airport. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

At the same time, the FAA notes some issues regarding the de-icing equipment of the 737 Max and the 787 Dreamliner. The risk of engine power loss does not threaten safety, commented Boeing. For now, the affected models continue to fly as usual.

March 2024: New Incidents…

In March 2024, the problems continue for the American group.

On a flight operated by Alaska Airlines from Los Cabos, Mexico, to Portland on March 1st, the cargo hold door containing pets was found open just after landing. It was a 737 Max.

A week later, on March 7th, a United Airlines 777 had to make an emergency landing in Los Angeles after losing a tire during takeoff from San Francisco Airport en route to Tokyo. The scene was captured on film. Many videos show the tire detaching from the plane and crashing into cars parked in a lot. There were 249 people on board, and no casualties were reported.

The following day, another incident occurred. Another United Airlines 737 Max had its landing gear collapse just after landing at Houston Airport in Texas. The plane ended up in the grass. No injuries were reported.

A couple of weeks ago, a Latam 787 Dreamliner flying from Sydney, Australia, to Auckland, New Zealand, suddenly nosedived over the Tasman Sea. Unsecured passengers were thrown from their seats, and around fifty of them were injured. An investigation is ongoing.

The most recent incidents (at least at the time of writing) are as follows:

Last Friday, a United Airlines 737-800 flying from San Francisco to Medford Airport in Oregon lost one of its panels, according to the Associated Press. The missing piece was noticed once the plane was inspected upon landing.

Two days later, last Sunday, an Alaska Airlines plane departing from Washington DC with 159 passengers and 6 crew members had its windshield cracked as the plane began its descent for landing. No casualties were reported.

… and a Suicide

In addition to these repeated incidents, a former Boeing employee, was found dead on March 11th at his home in the United States (South Carolina). According to initial investigation findings, suicide is suspected. John Barnett, 62, had previously raised concerns about safety negligence at his former employer.

The consequences of all these incidents are significant for Boeing. Some planes are grounded. Several federal investigations including a criminal one are underway. According to The Independent, some passengers are even seeking over a billion dollars in damages. Moreover, Boeing’s stock has dropped by a quarter of its value this year.

2/ Whose Fault Is It? The Trail of Faulty Quality Controls

What is causing all these series of accidents? While several investigations are ongoing, some initial explanations have already been provided, notably by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

According to the New York Times, the FAA’s investigation results regarding the door torn-off mid-flight incident on January 5th on an Alaska Airlines flight blamed a quality control failure.

“Instances in which Boeing and one of its key suppliers did not properly adhere to quality-control requirements.” (New York Times)

Immediately after the incident, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun himself acknowledged an “error.” According to the preliminary federal investigation, four bolts intended to secure the door were missing. They had been removed for repairs inside the aircraft cabin and were never replaced.

According to the New York Times, an audit of the 737 Max production also revealed 33 failures out of 89 tests and 97 cases of presumed non-compliance. The FAA has given the aircraft manufacturer 90 days to present a plan to address these “systemic quality control issues.”

3/ Why Are Controls Failing?

In aerospace, quality control processes are extremely demanding because they concern people’s safety, reminds Emmanuel Marquis, Executive Vice President of Aerospace, Defense, and Rail at TRIGO. Trigo assists companies in implementing quality solutions, ranging from corrective to preventive actions.

“Quality controls involve the entire supply chain, whether it’s aircraft manufacturers or suppliers, and are redundant in that virtually all components undergo rigorous multiple checks. Boeing suffers from a buzz effect; however, let’s recall that the accident rate in the aerospace sector has never been lower in 50 years. It is therefore a safe sector that benefits from numerous quality controls at all stages of production.”


However, in recent years, and especially since COVID, the entire aerospace industry has been facing significant challenges: labor shortages, lack of skills (technicians and safety inspectors), and supply chain crises.

“The shortage of personnel and, more broadly, qualified personnel, as well as the loss of highly experienced talents, have led to a notable leakage of skills and technical expertise throughout the aerospace sector. There is therefore a real challenge in training many more junior personnel, who need skills development.”

According to Salim El Mernissi, Lead Solution Strategist at skills management software provider Mercateam,

“In the wake of the pandemic, the aerospace sector saw its order books soar, marking a real boom. However, this success is a double-edged sword. The increase in order books leads to peak workloads for production teams, all in the context of a shortage of qualified labor. To address this, companies in the sector are hiring massively and, for the sake of efficiency, may be pushed to neglect certain key steps in the training and skills development of operational teams. Especially since the tools used in the field are not adapted to manage the know-how of the teams to ensure compliance with procedures and processes as defined by quality.”

The pressure and stress on production teams are increasing, pushing them to prioritize production deadlines at the expense of quality controls. As a consequence, the risks of errors and negligence during quality control processes are multiplying.


Salim also advances another reason why the current incidents only concern Boeing:

“One possible reason may also be a lack of communication and coordination among the actors in the chain. From design to production, and subcontracting, several actors are involved in a complex process involving many interconnected components and processes. These factors also contribute to making it difficult to detect and correct potential defects during quality controls.”

Indeed, for most of its history, Boeing had a product-centered corporate culture, and power within the company was in the hands of engineers. This is how, for everyone, Boeing aircraft were safe. However, in 1997, Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas and shifted its strategy to reduce production costs. As a result, hundreds of aircraft parts are now manufactured by various subcontractors. And subcontracting can entail challenges in ensuring quality controls at every stage.

“Vigilance in the aerospace sector must be observed at all levels, from the design and manufacture of aircraft to their continuous operation and maintenance. However, the manufacturer is the main guarantor of the proper functioning of these aircraft. For example, on Thursday, March 7, 2024, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the incident involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 in February – during which a pilot reported that the rudder pedals were stuck during a landing – occurred just under a year after the aircraft was delivered by Boeing to United, on February 20, 2023, highlighting the responsibility of the manufacturer.”

4/ How to Strengthen Quality Controls? Technology and Training

Everest Mentor Visual iQ+ (Credit: Waygate)
Scortex (Credit: TRIGO)

For Emmanuel Marquis of Trigo:

“The failures encountered by Boeing only reinforce the imperative of rigorous quality control given the imperative safety of the aircraft to guard against this type of incident.”

Non-Destructive Testing

Technology offers promising prospects for strengthening quality controls in the aerospace industry. Non-destructive testing tools, for example, can inspect materials without damaging them. This is the case with the Everest Mentor Visual iQ+ (MViQ+), developed by Waygate Technologies for the aerospace industry.

The company released the latest generation of its measurement tool in January. Their advanced video borescope is designed for complex inspection applications and remote visual inspections in aerospace. In an interview with Directindustry, Mike Domke, Executive General Manager at Waygate Technologies, said:

“Our current focus is heavily centered on aviation. In aviation, precision is paramount as flight safety is involved. This necessitates accurate defect identification and precise measurements. This is where our advanced measurement technology comes into play.”

The Everest Mentor Visual iQ+ combines high image quality, 3D measurement capability, and workflow automation.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence can also come to the rescue. TRIGO develops solutions related to AI to implement predictive models to anticipate quality incidents for its customers.

“This is the case with OTD Predictor, which, thanks to artificial intelligence, allows us to anticipate quality issues through a predictive approach. This enables TRIGO to send the right people to the right place and address well-defined root causes. Therefore, we intervene very precisely and surgically to treat the root cause. Similarly, with Scortex and its Multi-Spark View tool, we can enable our quality inspectors to increase the speed of inspections and thus save them time.”

However, for our speakers, these tools are decision-support solutions and are not intended to replace human action. They must therefore be integrated into organizations where quality processes are mature and where employees are competent in their assigned tasks.


And this is where training also plays a crucial role, as explained by Emmanuel from TRIGO:

“Training is the major lever to overcome the necessary skills development of these very junior employees who were hired post-COVID to support the sudden and very intense resumption of aerospace production activity.”

To address the challenges faced by their clients, Mercateam has developed the Mercateam platform, a SaaS-based software used by nearly 200 industrial sites in 10 different sectors. This platform connects operational teams with support functions such as quality and human resources, offering various solutions.

For example, regarding training management, the platform allows for the creation of tailored training paths, including questionnaires and checklists. This ensures the traceability of training actions for quality audits.

“Mercateam holds each actor accountable and identifies the necessary actions to ensure both traceability and operational excellence.”

The idea is to have the right person, with the right skills, in the right workstation.