Boeing Whistleblower Found Dead

John Barnett, a whistleblower and former employee of Boeing who voiced concerns about the company’s manufacturing practices, was found dead Saturday. In the days before his death, he was providing testimony in a whistleblower lawsuit against the company.

The Charleston County coroner confirmed his passing to the BBC on Monday, stating that the 62-year-old died from a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound and that an investigation is currently underway. Charleston police spokesperson Sgt. Anthony Gibson stated that the department has not received any indication from the coroner’s office that foul play is suspected in this case.

Barnett’s family stated that he had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety attacks and that the “hostile work environment at Boeing” led to his death.

“It caused John so much stress that his doctor told him that if he stayed, he would have a heart attack,” the family continued. They also stated that he had attempted to bring serious issues to light but encountered a “culture of concealment” that prioritized “profits over safety.”

Boeing expressed their sorrow over Barnett’s passing in a statement on Monday, extending their condolences to his family and friends.

Barnett had a 32-year tenure at Boeing before retiring in 2017. Starting in 2010, he served as a quality manager at the North Charleston plant, where the 787 Dreamliner was manufactured.

In 2017, Barnett filed a whistleblower complaint to aviation authorities about what he described as potentially “catastrophic” safety shortcomings.

He later informed the BBC that workers had neglected to adhere to procedures designed to track components throughout the factory, resulting in the loss of defective components. He stated that in some instances, inferior parts had been retrieved from scrap bins and installed on planes under construction to avoid production delays.

Furthermore, he alleged that tests on emergency oxygen systems intended for the 787 revealed a 25% failure rate, suggesting that one in four might not deploy in an actual emergency. Barnett said he had brought these concerns to the attention of the managers, but no action was taken.

Boeing refuted his claims. However, a 2017 review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), did validate some of Barnett’s concerns. The review found that the location of at least 53 non-conforming parts in the factory was unknown, and they were deemed lost. Boeing was instructed to take corrective action.

Regarding the oxygen cylinders, the company stated in 2017 that it had identified some oxygen bottles from the supplier that were not deploying correctly. However, it denied that any of these were actually installed on aircraft.

At the time of his death, Barnett was in Charleston for legal interviews related to his case. He had given a formal deposition last week, where he was interrogated by Boeing’s lawyers and cross-examined by his attorney. He was scheduled for further questioning on Saturday, but failed to show up and was found dead in his truck in his hotel’s parking lot.

This news emerges as Boeing is under increased regulatory and public scrutiny following a series of recent incidents involving its aircraft.

In January, some Boeing 737 Max 9 planes were grounded after a door plug was blown out, and subsequent investigations revealed loose bolts on many of the planes. Later that month, a Delta Boeing 757 lost one of its wheels as it went to takeoff from Atlanta. A similar situation occurred last week, with a Boeing 777 being forced to make an emergency landing at LAX after losing a tire shortly after takeoff. The most recent incident occurred on Monday, when 50 individuals were injured on a Boeing Dreamliner plane after a sudden mid-air drop.

Joe Jacobsen, a former engineer at Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, told the LA Times, “I would tell my family to avoid the Max. I would tell everyone, really.”

Similarly, Ed Pierson, a former senior manager on Boeing’s 737 program, said, “I would absolutely not fly a Max airplane. I’ve worked in the factory where they were built, and I saw the pressure employees were under to rush the planes out the door. I tried to get them to shut down before the first crash.”

On Tuesday, an FAA audit revealed that Boeing failed 33 of 89 sections of an audit of its 737 Max, with regulators identifying 97 instances where the company did not adhere to many of its own recommended practices. Spirit AeroSystems, the manufacturer of the body of the 737 Max, failed 7 out of 13 product audits.

The FAA’s investigation also evaluated the quality-control knowledge of Boeing’s engineers and found that the average comprehension score was only 58%. Furthermore, the audit found mechanics using hotel key cards and dish soap as makeshift tools.

Now, Southwest says it will cut flying capacity for the rest of the year and stop hiring, citing Boeing’s delivery delays.

United is also pausing hiring due to the delays, and has told Boeing to stop building the 737 Max 10 jets, opting to switch to the Airbus SE A321.

A video from a 2014 documentary called “Broken Dreams: The Boeing 787” reveals that 10 out of the 15 Boeing engineers interviewed said that they wouldn’t fly on the planes they were working on, one being the 787 Dreamliner.

Boeing stock is down almost 27% year-to-date, while Airbus is up 13%.