New Whistleblower Files F.A.A. and OSHA Complaints Against Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems Regarding Substandard 787 Bulkheads

June 26, 2024

Washington D.C. — Today, attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks announced they filed complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) on behalf of airplane mechanic Richard Cuevas, a 40-year veteran of the airline industry. Mr. Cuevas, who was contracted to Spirit to repair Boeing aircraft, alleges that he witnessed substandard manufacturing and maintenance processes on the 787 forward bulkhead, including critical drilling and sealant issues. Mr. Cuevas complained that these safety issues, if unremedied, could compromise power and air pressure on the planes, creating a serious public safety risk. When he raised these issues — first with Spirit management and then with Boeing’s ethics program — he was fired. The explanation provided by a Spirit manager for his termination was that it was “a sign of the times.”

“Our client witnessed critical issues with the forward pressure bulkhead assembly on multiple planes that deviated from Boeing’s specifications,” said Ms. Katz and Ms. Banks. “He recognized the substandard work and expressed concern about his safety concerns, but Spirit and Boeing failed to stop the faulty manufacturing processes. Mr. Cuevas was fired when his manager found out that an employee complained about these issues, and suspected that employee was Mr. Cuevas.”

Boeing slowly conducted an initial probe in October 2023, alerting Spirit management to these complaints. During this period, Mr. Cuevas’s colleague then remarked, “We’ve got a snitch among us.” In March 2024, Spirit suddenly fired Mr. Cuevas. As a result of his termination, he is ineligible to work on 787s for the next year.

“Mr. Cuevas’s technical allegations are just as disturbing as his retaliatory termination,” said Ms. Katz and Ms. Banks. “Spirit is routinely cutting corners to rush production of substandard bulkheads on 787s. Boeing has allowed Spirit to continue its shoddy work, at great risk to public safety.”

Summary of Technical Allegations:

Mr. Cuevas’s complaints allege that Spirit made a range of manufacturing and assembly specification changes on the 787 forward pressure bulkhead without Boeing’s permission. These allegations are different from previously reported issues with the forward pressure bulkhead in 2021.

Mr. Cuevas alleges that Spirit deviated from Boeing’s manufacturing specifications while drilling holes in the fasteners of the forward pressure bulkhead of 787s. Deviations from these specifications compromise the seal necessary to maintain air pressure during flight. Boeing requires fastener holes in this section of the plane to be drilled at .2475 inches, which provides a near-perfect “interference-fit” that best retains air pressure during flight. Instead of drilling at that size, Spirit workers were directed to drill holes using a .2495 drill bit, to clear excess paint from the holes and speed up a slow process. Mr. Cuevas alleges that this caused the interference fit to be compromised in Row 3 of these fasteners, which houses critical electrical components, risking power failure and depressurization inflight. Mr. Cuevas observed that Boeing conducted an unannounced inspection and identified 117 out of 200 improperly drilled holes on the bulkhead, but that it has yet to correct the issue. Mr. Cuevas witnessed these problems with three planes he worked on and believes that these issues may affect at least 10-12 planes either in production or already released to Boeing.

Mr. Cuevas also alleges that, because of the ethics investigation, Spirit had fallen behind schedule on its repairs, and therefore instructed workers to incorrectly apply sealants to the plane’s bulkhead fasteners. Usually, the first layer of sealant on this section of the plane requires approximately 168 hours to cure. On occasion, Mr. Cuevas witnessed only a two-hour gap between applying the first and second layer of sealant, which caused bubbles to form between the two layers, disrupting the needed torque to keep the fasteners in place. Boeing noticed this issue during its inspections on one aircraft and asked Spirit to reapply the sealants. Mr. Cuevas, however, fears that this and other issues, like the lack of an interference fit due to improper drilling, will go undetected on other planes.

Read the F.A.A. complaint.

Read the OSHA complaint.

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