Boeing Adopts New Airplane Manufacturing Quality and Safety Metrics

Boeing released a new executive summary of their plan to improve airplane manufacturing safety and quality assurance under increased FAA oversight last week. (Image: Marius)

Boeing has published a new 11-page summary of actions being implemented to prevent airplane manufacturing quality and safety issues such as those that led to the in-flight detachment of a mid-cabin door plug during Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 on Jan. 5.

The document  summarizes a new set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that Boeing is enacting and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is overseeing to improve manufacturing safety and quality assurance across all production lines and facilities. A team of senior executives from Boeing also met with FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker on May 30 to review the company's new roadmap to address safety and quality control issues.

The KPIs will monitor how Boeing is implementing short and long-term improvements in seven specific areas that range from reducing incoming defects on airplane parts from suppliers to simplifying installation and build plans. Boeing has also changed its process for hiring new employees to include 300 new hours of course work in its foundational training curriculum for new mechanics and inspectors. New manufacturing and quality assurance employees will also be required to undergo two additional weeks of foundational training, followed by "enhanced structured on-the-job training (SOJT)."

Six new airplane production health KPIs are the central tenet of the new plan to improve Boeing's manufacturing quality assurance and safety culture. These are the key metrics that Boeing has identified in response to the Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 incident, as they’re listed in the executive summary as the following:

  • (i) Employee Proficiency (measures share of employees currently staffed to commercial programs who are proficient);
  • (ii) Notice of Escape (NoE) Rework Hours (measures rework due to Fabrication and supplier-provided escapes to Final Assembly);
  • (iii) Supplier Shortages (measures Fabrication and supplier shortages/day);
  • (iv) Rework Hours per airplane (measures total rework hours per airplane in Final Assembly);
  • (v) Travelers at Factory Rollout (measures jobs traveling from Final Assembly); and (vi) Ticketing Performance (measures average escapes per ticketed airplane).
More details about new actions Boeing is taking to improve its airplane manufacturing safety and quality assurance culture from the executive summary. (Image: Boeing)

During a press conference following his meeting with Boeing executives, FAA Administrator Whitaker discussed how the agency will continue its increased oversight  of the company's manufacturing quality and safety management improvements. This includes an increased presence of onsite FAA safety inspectors at Boeing's facility in Renton, Washington, and Spirit AeroSystems’ facility in Wichita, Kansas — the two facilities where all of the components, parts and systems for 737s are integrated and assembled for new airplanes before they’re delivered to airlines.

"I think the flying public should feel that we're increasing our oversight to an appropriate level with Boeing. We certify each aircraft right now coming off the line, so we're ensuring that those airplanes are safe," Whitaker said. "Boeing on its own has reduced capacity or production levels to make sure that they've got the resources they need. Going forward, what we're looking at is making sure they've built really robust quality management systems, that they're taking feedback from employees and that the metrics are telling us if there are mistakes being made, how they're managing those mistakes."

Other new measures being adopted by Boeing include revising its approach to supplier oversight. Boeing is also now using a new data analytics tool based on historical supply chain data, and has “established a team dedicated to analyzing quality risk in the supply chain and directing appropriate action.” There is also a new escalation process being enacted to address supplier quality issues including increased monitoring of their operations or canceling work altogether.

"This process has already resulted in the dedication of additional oversight resources to quality issues at Spirit and Daher," the executive summary notes. Boeing is also developing a new shared oversight process for tier 2 and 3 suppliers.

There are also new steps being taken to strengthen aircraft parts and materials controls, including "by centralizing responsibility for work-in-progress (WIP) racks and enhancing the Company’s digital apparatus for tracking parts and materials, with the goal of ensuring that all parts are properly labelled and accounted for in WIP racks. Boeing is also working to tighten accountability for non-compliances and improve inventory control," the summary notes.

Another major part of the new plan includes keeping the current monthly rate limit on 737 production in place. Last year, Boeing was producing up to 45 total 737 MAX aircraft per month, and has reduced that number to 38 per month following the Alaska Airlines side panel incident. That rate is also lower than the halt to production expansion that the FAA enacted against Boeing following the Flight 1282 incident.

"We don't have a time frame," Whitaker said, when asked about a timeline for allowing Boeing to increase their 737 MAX monthly production rate.