FAA gives Boeing a deadline to fix 737 Max quality control Boeing has 90 days to come up with a plan to fix quality control issues, the FAA said Wednesday. Critics say those problems go far beyond the door plug that blew off a 737 Max in midair last month.

The FAA gives Boeing 90 days to fix quality control issues. Critics say they run deep

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Boeing is on the clock. Regulators at the FAA said today the company has 90 days to come up with a plan to fix its quality control issues. Those problems came to light after a fuselage panel blew off a 737 MAX 9 jet in midair last month. Some of Boeing's critics say the 737 MAX shouldn't be flying at all, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: When pilots fly a Boeing 737 MAX jet, they sometimes take an unusual step because of a flaw with the system that prevents the plane's engines from icing up. Basically, if pilots leave the anti-icing system running for too long in dry conditions, it can cause problems - very big problems.

DENNIS TAJER: If we leave it on more than five minutes, the engine could fail and come apart. That's pretty ominous.

ROSE: Captain Dennis Tajer is a pilot for American Airlines and a spokesman for the union that represents its pilots. Here is how Tajer reminds himself to turn that anti-icing system off.

TAJER: It's like old-school stuff. I got out a Post-It note, plastered it on the dashboard so my eyes would see it along with the first officer. And I had engine anti-ice, five minutes is what I put on it - handwriting in a marker.

ROSE: In other words, Tajer is flying one of the most sophisticated planes Boeing has ever made. And his workaround is a Post-It note and a marker. To be clear, Tajer says he can fly this plane safely. He does it all the time. But he's lost patience with Boeing.

TAJER: Right now, we don't trust them. It's led us to ask, what else you got? Because every time something pops up, we learn that it has tangled roots deep down into the dysfunction of Boeing.

ROSE: Since Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, a lot of attention has been focused on the door plug that blew off the jet in midair. Federal investigators say four key bolts that were supposed to hold the door plug in place were missing when the plane left Boeing's factory. But the company's critics say the problems with the 737 MAX go much deeper than that.

ED PIERSON: It's not a story about missing bolts.

ROSE: Ed Pierson is a former senior manager at Boeing. He tried to get management to halt production before two crashes of the 737 MAX 8 that killed 346 people because of what Pierson saw as problems in every stage of the plane's development.

PIERSON: From the beginning to the end, it's been rushed - design, certification, production - all of it has been a rush job from my vantage point. And when you're putting people under that kind of pressure, they make mistakes.

ROSE: Pierson is not at Boeing anymore. He now directs a watchdog group called the Foundation for Aviation Safety. Pierson says he's still hearing about some of the same problems at the factory, and he still won't fly on a 737 MAX jet.

PIERSON: We're saying these planes need to be grounded because we're seeing all kinds of aircraft system malfunctions. New airplanes should not be having problems like this.

ROSE: Pierson is also worried about the design flaw in the MAX's engine anti-icing system. According to the FAA, Boeing discovered that problem after the MAX 8 and 9 were already flying. Last year, Boeing asked regulators for a two-year safety exemption and to speed up certification of two new models, the MAX 7 and MAX 10, even though they have the same design flaw. But Boeing eventually withdrew that request after the Alaska Airlines incident and now says it will focus on an engineering fix. Here's CEO Dave Calhoun on Boeing's earnings call in January.

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DAVE CALHOUN: We will go slow to go fast. And we will encourage and reward employees for speaking up to slow things down if that's what's needed.

ROSE: The FAA has forced Boeing to slow down, capping production of the 737 MAX at 38 jets per month. And now, regulators have given Boeing a deadline to come up with a plan to improve quality control within 90 days. Some Boeing critics are glad to see the FAA take a harder line with the plane-maker.

MICHAEL STUMO: They can't even put bolts in. They haven't fixed their system. They need new management who truly focuses on safety and quality.

ROSE: Michael Stumo is the father of Samya Stumo, who died in a MAX crash in 2019. Stumo has heard promises about quality and safety from Boeing's leaders before, and he doesn't trust them.

STUMO: It sounds like they're changing just enough to remain the same.

ROSE: Nearly five years after his daughter was killed, Stumo is willing to fly, but not on a Boeing MAX jet.

Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington.

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