Pressure mounts as more Boeing whistleblowers step forward after colleagues’ deaths

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Whistleblowers at Boeing and one of its subcontractors continue to voice their concerns about airplane safety in the wake of the unexpected deaths of two of their colleagues who had also gone public.

At least three have come forward publicly so far. Others are weighing the risks of adding their voices with concerns over the production of civilian and military aircraft.

Two whistleblowers died earlier this year in unrelated incidents after speaking out against the aerospace giant.

John Barnett, 62, shot himself in the head in his truck shortly after giving deposition testimony in his whistleblower lawsuit against the company, according to police in Charleston, South Carolina.

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And Joshua Dean, 44, died last month after contracting an antibiotic-resistant infection that destroyed his lungs. He worked at Spirit AeroSystems, one of Boeing’s suppliers.

Dean lost his job in 2023 and filed a retaliation complaint with federal labor officials, alleging that he was only fired for speaking out. He had been deposed in connection with a shareholder lawsuit and had reported dangerous faults in components of Boeing’s 737 MAX plane — a model linked to a number of catastrophes in recent years.

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Attorneys Brian Knowles and Rob Turkewitz, who represent a number of current and former Boeing employees who have come forward in recent months, have praised their clients for speaking out.

Santiago Paredes, another Spirit AeroSystems employee, told “Fox & Friends First” last month that his superiors pressured him to “falsify information” about defects in 737 aircraft. In another interview, he told the New York Post he faced pushback on hundreds of issues including missing or damaged parts and incomplete frame assemblies.

Spirit AeroSystems has disputed Paredes’ claims.

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And Roy Irvin, who worked with Barnett at the South Carolina plant, told the Post that he found problems on a near-daily basis, including missing safety devices and loose bolts.

“If the fastener is not secured correctly, it’s going to fall off and you’re not gonna be able to control the airplane,” he told the paper.

BOEING WHISTLEBLOWER JOHN BARNETT WAS SPIED ON, HARASSED BY MANAGERS, LAWSUIT CLAIMS 

Another whistleblower, Boeing engineer Martin Bickeboller, had two complaints substantiated by the Federal Aviation Administration going back to 2014, according to the Seattle Times. He filed a new one in January alleging the company had failed to make government-ordered fixes.

Before his death, Barnett said he had learned of the issue while working at Boeing’s North Charleston plant in 2010 and claimed to have raised the issue with management, but to no avail. Instead of tackling the issue, his lawyers allege, the company retaliated against him and subjected him to a hostile work environment, leading to the lawsuit for which he was being deposed.

The Federal Aviation Administration reviewed Boeing in 2017, corroborated some of Barnett’s allegations and ordered the company to take action. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened its own investigation last month, and the National Transportation Safety Board is looking into individual incidents, including one in January where a 737-9 Max door blew open mid-flight.

FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker met with a Senate committee last week to discuss Boeing’s ongoing struggles. The government has asked Boeing to increase supplier oversight, including adding safety inspectors to Spirit AeroSystems facilities, and internal audits, among other fixes.

“On the FAA’s part, we will make sure they do and that their fixes are effective,” he said in a statement afterward. “This does not mark the end of our increased oversight of Boeing and its suppliers, but it sets a new standard of how Boeing does business.” 

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He met separately with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun.

“I made clear once again that we need to see a strong and unwavering commitment to safety, which must always come first,” Whitaker said. “Systemic change isn’t easy but in this case is absolutely necessary, and the work is never really done when it comes to the safety of the flying public – from Boeing, airlines, or the FAA.”

Calhoun previously announced that he would step down at the end of the year. Other executives, including the head of the 737 Max program, and board members are also leaving the company amid the fallout.

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.