Whistleblower cries foul over alleged fuselage gaps in Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Company rejects claims as 'inaccurate'

A Boeing whistleblower has called for the embattled aircraft manufacturer's fleet of 787s to be grounded for gap checks.

Engineer Sam Salehpour said the alleged flaw is "as serious as I have ever seen in my lifetime" during an interview with NBC Nightly News. The issue, he claims, is gaps in the fuselage, which, even though the fuselage is fastened together, are allegedly too big and could cause structural failure.

"The plane will fall apart at the joints," Salehpour claimed, should the aircraft experience a failure. "The entire fleet, worldwide, needs attention."

Boeing was quick to deny Salehpour's claims. During an event at Boeing's South Carolina plant this week, the company's chief engineer for mechanical and structural engineering, Steve Chisholm, insisted that the aircraft was safe and that the materials from which the jet was made had passed rigorous stress testing.

The Register asked Boeing to comment on Salehpour's allegations and a spokesperson gave us the following statement:

We are fully confident in the 787 Dreamliner. These claims about the structural integrity of the 787 are inaccurate and do not represent the comprehensive work Boeing has done to ensure the quality and long term safety of the aircraft.

The issues raised have been subject to rigorous engineering examination under FAA oversight. This analysis has validated that these issues do not present any safety concerns and the aircraft will maintain its service life over several decades.

We continue to monitor these issues under established regulatory protocols and encourage all employees to speak up when issues arise. Retaliation is strictly prohibited at Boeing.

However, while the materials might be sufficient, Boeing has struggled with assembling the aircraft. Deliveries of new 787s ground to a halt in 2020 and 2021 after a succession of defects were uncovered in the manufacturing process, including what appeared to be issues with gaps.

In 2023, Boeing discovered a defect in a component fitted to the aircraft's horizontal stabilizer, which required some additional inspections. According to Boeing, the issue was not an immediate safety concern and did not affect manufacturing.

The 787 has suffered a number of setbacks since its introduction in 2011. There was the battery problem in 2014 and the instruction in 2020 to power cycle the aircraft every 51 days.

However, the demand to ground the entire fleet – currently over a thousand aircraft – for panel gap inspections is dramatic.

Away from the 787 allegations, Boeing has had a torrid time in recent months as its safety record has been repeatedly called into question. An emergency exit door plug blew out during the flight of an Alaskan Airlines 737, and the company's CEO, Dave Calhoun, is due to make his own exit at the end of the year.

Boeing's safety record and processes have also come under scrutiny. Last month, the chair of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) told a Senate Commerce Committee that the agency was having difficulty getting records regarding maintenance on the Alaskan Airline 737's door plug.

An aviation industry insider told The Register that even the suggestion that documentation might not be available was "bizarre."

Salehpour is due to testify before US lawmakers on April 17. ®

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