Boeing Safety Management Systems (SMS)
Are Boeing’s safety programs deficient?
Or is the FAA not supporting their new compliance philosophy?
Though Boeing paid $12 million in late 2015 to settle more than a dozen Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigations, details of the problems found by the safety agency were not disclosed at the time.
Documents obtained this month by The Seattle Times through a Freedom of Information Act request show the cases revealed a disquieting pattern of falsified paperwork and ignored procedures that created quality issues on the production lines of Boeing and its suppliers.
The FAA found that Boeing repeatedly failed to follow protocols designed to guard against production errors that put safety at risk.
Some tasks were signed off as completed and checked when they were not. Other work was done without authorization.
The result was multiple errors in manufacturing, some of which passed right through the system to airplanes in service.
Boeing also failed to take corrective action in a timely way after issues were discovered, the FAA found.
This story does not make sense. First, the FAA has in place and has exercised previously as to Boeing a new enforcement policy. It is open to question whether the field would accept “compliance” over issuing civil penalties. The premise behind this new collaborative compliance approach has been that Safety Management System, a process which seeks to reduce risks through a meta data analysis and prioritization of potential problems.
The Seattle Times analysis does not make sense. The Boeing company has heavily invested time, senior management commitment, human resources and systems to make this discipline, SMS work throughout the company.
Exactly the sorts of problems identified in the released FOIA papers would have been captured by and reviewed by the Safety Risk Management team, which includes Boeing engineers (design, process, material, etc.), QA/QC experts, line mechanics, shop stewards, Purchasing personnel, AND the FAA.
The company has published well-crafted documents in support of this program:
• Robust Processes Produce Safe Products
• Continuous Monitoring for Continuing Enhancements
• New Technology to Enhance Safety
• Human Factors
• Working Together to Make Sure Flying Is as Safe as Possible
• Aviation safety is the combined result of:
• Airplane design and production
• Regulatory oversight
• Airline operation and maintenance
• Air traffic and airport –infrastructure
• Boeing joins with governments and the industry to continuously advance safety in all aspects of the global air transportation system. This collaborative approach is more effective than regulatory action alone.
• Boeing continuously works with members of industry, civil aviation associations, government regulatory authorities and operators to ensure safety efforts are effective and aligned worldwide.
• Commercial Aviation Safety Team
The information contained in this article may well be true. If so, then the above-described Boeing SMS programs are probably deficient and must be addressed immediately. If, however, SMS, SRM and safety culture are alive and well in Renton, then this Civil Penalty Decision does not appear to comport with the New Compliance Policy.
It would be interesting to know where along this continuum the facts lie!