Boeing is planning to cut about 900 inspectors, replacing their jobs with technology improvements at its Seattle area factories. This come in the midst of the company being under fire for software flaws in the 737 Max and quality issues in its other aircraft.
The union has raised an outcry, calling it a “bad decision” that will “eliminate the second set of eyes on thousands of work packages” in its newsletter to members.
About 451 inspectors will be transferred to other jobs this year, and about the same number next year, out of a total of about 3,000 at its commercial aircraft operations in the Seattle area, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 751, has told its members.
Boeing, which confirms the plan but won’t disclose the number of workers involved, said the changes will result in better quality overall.
The massive aerospace company is still facing fallout from the crashes of two 737 Max jetliners — a Lion Air flight in October, killing all 189 aboard, and an Ethiopian Airlines jet in March, which claimed 157 lives.
An automated system designed to hold down the plane’s nose appears to have factored in both crashes. The jet has been grounded worldwide while Boeing rewrites and certifies the software that runs the system. Boeing has estimated the process will cost it at least $1 billion.
But damage to Boeing’s reputation could be even worse and it hasn’t been limited to the Max. The New York Times published an exposé last month that alleged shoddy work and weak oversight at Boeing’s plant in South Carolina, which makes the 787 jetliner.
Boeing says the “QA Transformation Plan” won’t undermine safety. Substituting technology gains, it says, will increase quality and effect only “stable” procedures, those in which there is a low probability of mistakes.
“As we identify and reduce second-layer inspections for stable processes, quality assurance professionals will be redeployed and take on new roles such as leading and supporting efforts to prevent defects and rework,” Boeing said in a statement.
So far, the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t given the plan a ringing endorsement.
“Our enhanced oversight on this is still underway,” FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said.
Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate who lost a niece when the Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed and who believes the 737 Max design is fatally flawed, is leery of substituting machines for people when it comes to quality.
“They still haven’t learned the lesson that risky automation does not replicate experienced human intelligence,” he said. “There is no comparison. There is all kinds of human intuition that can’t be translated into computer code.”